Recently, the popular Bear dating app GROWLr appeared to have made some updates to its Terms of Service, which states that the app has the right to share private information with no option to opt out. This has left many users of the app up in arms.
During a time when numerous social media platforms, such as Facebook, have been coming under fire for sharing and selling users’ data to third party agencies without their consent, it comes as no surprise that many app users would be on high alert when it comes to the protection of their privacy.
Founded in 2010 by Coley Cummiskey, GROWLr became the first “for bears, by bears” social media dating app. Just last year, GROWLr was sold in an $11.8 million dollar deal with the social media entertainment company The Meet Group. GROWLr has since become the first same-sex dating app under the company’s predominantly heterosexual umbrella.
Since 2014, GROWLr’s Terms of Service has stated under Section XV:
When you become a Member or user of the GROWLr App or the Service, you agree and consent to receive email messages or other forms of communication from us including but not limited to mail, telephone calls or text messages (including but not limited to sms or mms messages or other digital or mobile messaging services or applications. These emails or communications may be transactional or relationship communications relating to the GROWLr App or the Service, such as administrative notices and service announcements or changes, or emails containing commercial offers, promotions or special offers from us or third party partners.
But a new addition to the 2020 Terms of Service states:
YOU CONSENT TO RECEIVE COMMERCIAL E-MAIL, TEXT, SMS AND/OR OTHER MESSAGES FROM US, AND AGREE THAT WE MAY USE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS, PHONE NUMBER AND OTHER PERSONAL INFORMATION FOR THE PURPOSE OF INITIATING COMMERCIAL MESSAGES. Receiving these communications, possibly via autodialer, is a condition of using GROWLR and you will not be able to opt out of receiving them.
The addition to GROWLr’s Terms of Service has caused a many different reactions throughout the gay bear community, with many users being comletely appalled at the fact that GROWLr does not give its users the ability to opt out of receiving these unsolicited communications.
“I get that the new owners of GROWLr are in the business to make money and I’m not naive to the fact that a lot of data is mined for sale from the apps we use, but at least most of the apps out there give us options to restrict how much of that is used. And those apps, made specifically for the gay community, have at least some sense of community, responsibility and privacy. These new owners have shown they don’t care one bit about our community. These new TOS are outrageous. Especially for those of us who are paying customers. Even we don’t have the option to opt out!”Charger Stone, DC Bear Crue
The new ownership has undoubtedly caused many users to question if the new owners really understand the importance of dating apps in the gay bear community. Many are concerned that this privacy issue may push many users away from the platform, causing a disturbance in the app’s sense of community.
“GROWLr for years has been an incredible tool for the bear community. For a lot of younger guys it was their first way of meeting other bears, myself included. As GROWLr matured it became a place to discover events, businesses, and gatherings all tailor-made for the bear community. It was a digital theme park that was fun, exciting, and sexy. Today however GROWLr is a far cry from what it began as. It’s filled with annoying pop-up ads, aggressive fake bot accounts, and a dwindling user base being chased off by terrible changes and updates. The new terms feel like a violation of everything these apps were created for. GROWLr was a safe private place to be ourselves that was built by bears for the bears. Sadly, the guys who own[ed] GROWLr sold it. We all helped make Growlr what it was, and just like that they sold out and let GROWLr be gutted and mined for its riches. Since the app was sold, the crumbling amusement park that was GROWLr has implemented terrible changes that are greedy, scummy, and downright offensive. It’s no longer focused on the community, it’s focused on our data, our profitability, and our desire to connect with other guys. Do the people who now own GROWLr not understand this? Do they not understand the importance of our privacy and GROWLr beyond its bottom line? I don’t think they do. Their actions prove they don’t.”Weston Fisher, Owner of Weston Xposure and Bears on the Prowl
Amid the concerns, our CEO had the chance to speak with the Marketing Director at GROWLr about the concerns of their users in regards to the updated Terms and Conditions.
The management team, many of whom are also users of GROWLr, first acknowledged that they are aware of the app’s many technical issues.
“The app has been experiencing some technical issues, and we are constantly working on those issues. This is an uphill battle, and we sincerely apologize.”GROWLr Marketing Director
He went on to say: Regarding the new Terms and Services, the management team insists that these terms have not been updated in five years, and are not connected to the CA legal changes regarding privacy data. The Terms of Service are completely in line with the other four apps that The Meet Group owns.
Legally, the far reaching nature of terms of services have to be thought of and planned for. In addition to this, the Terms and Services of most social apps are all very similar.
The management recognizes the privacy concerns that many of GROWLr’s users have, and believes that these concerns are valid. In regards to privacy, users can feel reassured that nothing will change.
The Marketing Director assured our CEO that he had “brought the recent concerns to the attention of upper management, and all privacy concerns will be addressed. Dialogue internally has been started, and there will be more info in the coming weeks in regards to privacy and protection of data.”
We are concerned about the privacy of our fellow bears, especially when the Terms of Service include such invasive methods as robocalling and spam emails which members are not able to opt out of.
We will continue to have dialogue with GROWLr and will report back on our progress soon.