March 20, 2014
This article was reported by Bay Area Reporter.
The Bay Area Reporter published an article describing San Mateo County health workers' use of an online site called Grindr to reach out to men who have sex with men (MSM) and encourage them to get HIV and STD tests. The county purchased membership to the site, where it posted stock images of men as profile photos to make contact, but no explicit photos or messages.
According to Darryl Lampkin, prevention supervisor for the county's STD/HIV program, the county's MSM interaction has increased since beginning this intervention. From October 2011 to March 2012, before using Grindr, the program made 60 contacts with MSM; from October 2012 to March 2013, it made 305 contacts, which included 215 through Grindr. Lampkin noted that 79 percent of Grindr contacts showed interest when staff revealed their purpose. Staff explained that they divulged their purpose very early in the conversation. Lampkin emphasized that staffers did not initiate contact, but responded when someone was interested in a profile. He noted that many people were pleased to know of the county services and that the intervention exists.
When questioned about the ethics of using Grindr, Lampkin replied that the county was not being deceptive, as others use profiles that are not really theirs and that many people are on the site to chat, which is what the staff is doing. Lampkin contended that it was more unethical to "ignore the application's potential" as an educational tool and use it to provide information. He admitted that the county had not spoken with Grindr, as their plan followed the terms of service. In a written statement, Grindr Spokesperson Matt Goodman noted that the site supported safe sex and welcomed working with nongovernmental organizations for safe sex education and promotion, but does not allow paid or pro-bono advertising in user profiles. Lampkin responded that the county does not advertise and provides specific answers to questions, which they consider to be risk reduction information and referrals.
County data show that San Mateo County, with a population of 739,000, has 1,424 HIV-positive residents. Of these, 83 percent are men and 59 percent of them contracted HIV through same-sex transmission.