The use of location-based hookup apps by officials or employees of Church institutions could present serious security problems for the Church, even at the level of the Holy See’s diplomatic and international relations.
Analysis of commercially available signal data shows that during a period of 26 weeks in 2018, at least 32 mobile devices emitted serially occurring hookup or dating app data signals from secured areas and buildings of the Vatican ordinarily inaccessible to tourists and pilgrims.
At least 16 mobile devices emitted signals from the hookup app Grindr on at least four days between March to October 2018 within the non-public areas of the Vatican City State, while 16 other devices showed use of other location-based hookup or dating apps, both heterosexual and homosexual, on four or more days in the same time period.
Extensive location-based hookup or dating app usage is evident within the walls of Vatican City, in restricted areas of St. Peter’s Basilica, inside Vatican City government and Holy See’s administration buildings including those used by the Vatican’s diplomatic staff, in residential buildings, and in the Vatican Gardens, both during daytime hours and overnight.
Signals emitted from most of the Vatican’s extraterritorial buildings, which house the offices of several key Curial departments were excluded from analysis because of the proximity of tourists, pilgrims, and the general public to those buildings on a daily basis.
The use of any hookup app within the Vatican City State’s secured areas could pose a security risk for the Holy See. And use of the Grindr app among Vatican residents and officials and within the non-public areas of Vatican City State could present a particular diplomatic security risk for the Holy See in its dealings with China.
Grindr was launched in California, but acquired by the Chinese gaming firm Beijing Kunlun Tech in 2016 for $93 million.
While it was under Chinese ownership, the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) deemed the app’s ownership a national security risk, over concerns that data from the app’s some 27 million users could be accessed by the Chinese government and used for blackmail.
The app was sold in 2020 to a company based in the United States for a reported $608 million, at the demand of the U.S. government.
While it was still under Chinese ownership, Grindr allowed third-party engineers access to the personal data of millions of U.S.-based users, including their personal details and HIV status, according to media reports last year.
Because Chinese law requires tech companies to provide access to national intelligence-gathering agencies, app data could be available to the Chinese government. Under intelligence and cybersecurity laws, Kunlun Tech could have been compelled to turn over the data from company servers to the Chinese government for any reason pertaining to “national security,” experts have warned.
That data could include user details, private messages exchanged between users, and evidence of sexual liaisons arranged between users.
Grindr has said that the company has “never disclosed any user data (regardless of citizenship) to the Chinese government nor do we intend to.”
But one former Grindr employee told Los Angeles magazine in 2019 that “there’s no world in which the People’s Republic of China is like, ‘Oh, yes, a Chinese billionaire is going to make all this money in the American market with all of this valuable data and not give it to us.’”
China-watchers warn that the country’s government is proactive and formidable in its online-surveillance and intelligence gathering.
“There is a rampant, habitual collection of and interception of internet communication and social media communications. Members of Congress were hacked,” Nina Shea, a former commissioner on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, told The Pillar last week.
Shea, who also served as a U.S. delegate to the United Nations’ Commission on Human Rights, told The Pillar that “since the Vatican doesn’t have a military component, the Chinese are tracking their religious ideas, spying on local Church figures in order to keep them in line. Blackmail is certainly one of the cards they have that they would have no compunction in using.”
In 2018, the Holy See agreed to a two-year provisional deal with the Chinese government, granting Beijing a role in the selection and vetting of candidates for episcopal appointment in Chinese dioceses.
That deal, which was renewed in 2020, has been criticized for appearing to lend Vatican approval to efforts that force Catholic clergy in the country to acknowledge the Chinese Communist Party as the legitimate authority over Church affairs in China.
China has also moved to crack down on the exercise of civil liberties in Hong Kong, arresting several prominent Catholic pro-democracy activists and forcing the local diocese to issue warnings to Catholic priests and teachers to ensure sufficiently patriotic content in homilies and classrooms.
Vatican City State policy does not presently prohibit employees or residents from the use of location-based hookup apps, even within secured locations connected to diplomatic responsibilities, Vatican officials have told The Pillar.
The above comes from a July 27 story by The Pillar.