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If Grindr or a similar app tells you how far away someone is—even if it doesn’t tell you in which direction—you can determine their exact location by combining the distance measurement from three points surrounding them, as shown in the the image at right.In late 2014, Grindr responded to security researchers who pointed out that risk by offering an option to turn off the app’s distance-measuring feature, and disabling it by default in countries known to have “a history of violence against the gay community,” like Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.Ten minutes after that, he sent me a screenshot from Google Maps, showing a thin arc shape on top of my building, just a couple of yards wide. Hoang says his Grindr-stalking method is cheap, reliable, and works with other gay dating apps like Hornet and Jack'd, too.(He went on to demonstrate as much with my test accounts on those competing services.) In a paper published last week in the computer science journal Transactions on Advanced Communications Technology, Hoang and two other researchers at Kyoto University describe how they can track the phone of anyone who runs those apps, pinpointing their location down to a few feet."You can easily pinpoint and reveal a person," says Hoang."In the US that's not a problem [for some users,] but in Islamic countries or in Russia, it can be very serious that their information is leaked like that."The Kyoto researchers’ method is a new twist on an old privacy problem for Grindr and its more than ten million users: what’s known as trilateration.
As Jack'd notes, people can also avoid posting their faces to the dating apps.
By adjusting the spoofed location of those two fake users, the researchers can eventually position them so that they’re slightly closer and slightly further away from the attacker in Grindr's proximity list.
Each pair of fake users sandwiching the target reveals a narrow circular band in which the target can be located.
But after a slightly longer hunting process, Hoang was still able to identify my location.
And Jack'd, despite claims to "fuzz" its users' locations, allowed Hoang to find me using the older simple trilateration attack, without even the need to spoof dummy accounts.And that ordering allows what the Kyoto researchers call a trilateration attack.