Location-aware or geososocial mobile dating and sex-seeking applications are becoming more and more common for men who have sex with men (MSM). Of these apps, Grindr is likely the most popular with 3.5 million users opening the app each day (Kelly, 2018). This mobile app presents other users profile images in a 3-column grid, allowing a user to quickly scan through the profile images of other users to find potential partners. Goedel and Duncan (2015) suggest that MSM use multiple apps and spend considerable time on them, meaning that there are many different sites for interventions with MSM but also the sustained time on the apps might suggest that these would be fruitful locations.
Given the high use of these applications, I’m interested in the ways that public health researchers can work with(in) these applications or the ways that these applications can make themselves more socially responsible with respect to users’ sexual health. Using Grindr as a case study, we can look at the ways that the user profile works with the Health Belief Model (HBM) and Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) to possibly result in health behavior changes for HIV testing and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) usage (Glanz, Rimer, & Viswanath, 2008).
On Grindr, there are currently options for sharing information about HIV status and last tested date (see image below). Users can select from various restricted vocabulary options to show to their fellow users. In this sense, seeing that other people are taking PrEP or have gotten tested recently might work within the SCT concepts of collective efficacy and observational learning. MSM on these apps can see other MSM are getting tested and taking PrEP, and these aspects might impact individual self-efficacy and perceived benefits within the Health Belief Model while also serving as a cue to action for the behavior change. As such, combining these aspects of SCT and the HBM, these two simple factors on the dating profile might increase the likelihood of users on these apps engaging in HIV testing or PrEP usage.
However, it was recently revealed that Grindr was sharing this health information with other companies (Kelly, 2018). It will be interesting to see how users make choices about using these fields in the future if they feel distrust towards the application. This news came quickly after Grindr proposed offering reminders and information about HIV testing to users based on the last tested dates provided on their profiles (McNeil, 2018).
Other dating applications for MSM, and for other populations, could employ similar strategies in their user profile descriptive schemas. Future research could also look empirically at the impact of these aspects of the profile on health behavior change. It may also be possible to expand sexual health information sharing to include information about other STIs to encourage testing and prevention beyond HIV.
Glanz, K., Rimer, B. K., & Viswanath, K. (Eds.). (2008). Health behavior and health education: theory, research, and practice. John Wiley & Sons.
Goedel, W. C., & Duncan, D. T. (2015). Geosocial-Networking App Usage Patterns of Gay, Bisexual, and Other Men Who Have Sex With Men: Survey Among Users of Grindr, A Mobile Dating App. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 17(5), 1-1. doi:10.2196/publichealth.4353
Kelly, H (2 April 2018). Grindr to stop sharing HIV status of users with outside companies. CNN Money. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
McNeil, D. G., Jr (26 March 2018). Grindr App to Offer H.I.V. Test Reminders. NY Times. Retrieved 4 April 2018.