The global HIV epidemic impacts gay, bi, and trans people in every country on earth. As the world's largest queer mobile social network, Grindr, realized it had the opportunity to contribute to the movement to increase information, reduce HIV transmission, and support its whole community – regardless of HIV status – in living long and fulfilling lives, free of stigma.
After consulting with numerous experts, activists, public health professionals, and Grindr users, the company introduced new features in late 2016 that gave users the ability to publicly list their HIV status and last test fields. At the time, the features were positively received, but the company still felt it could do more to help reduce the stigma of HIV and provide more tools to the community to help combat the spread of HIV.
In 2018, Grindr took things a step further by giving users who opted in the ability to easily and discreetly receive automatic reminders to get tested for HIV. The update is notable because it makes an immediate and significant impact on the health of a number of individuals, as Grindr has users in every country in the world and 3.6 million active users who log in daily.
At the same time the new testing reminder feature was announced, the company also announced free advertising for HIV testing sites in the United States, and that it had partnered with CenterLink, an organization that connects more than 200 LGBTQ community centers throughout the U.S., to proactively develop free ads for its HIV testing services.
Additionally, the free ads also hope to target rural areas where people diagnosed with HIV are more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage than their urban counterparts (BMC Public Health, 2011), and the Deep South which has the highest rates of HIV diagnosis rates of any US region and where HIV diagnoses are increasing among minority MSM (Duke University, 2017).
The idea of using apps to remind people to get HIV tests is not new as universities and HIV prevention experts have long considered developing apps for this purpose. The challenge, however, is getting people to download and use an app specifically for this function as there is widespread stigma around HIV.
Using Grindr as a platform for spreading awareness, however, is innovative as Grindr is an app that is already broadly used with a high level of engagement within the gay, bisexual and transgender community - 3.6M daily active users around the world log in and spend on average 61 minutes a day using the app. By sending reminders through the app, Grindr is able to bring awareness and reduce stigma for HIV to some of those who are at greatest risk for HIV.
Grindr did not develop the new feature in a vacuum. The new testing reminder was developed with guidance from Building Healthy Online Communities, a consortium of public health leaders and gay dating website and app owners who are working together to support HIV and STI prevention online. The company also consulted with several public health officials, HIV experts, and community leaders.
Grindr users are able to use the app to conveniently and discreetly remind themselves to take an HIV test every three to six months from their last inputted test date. By default, Testing Reminders are set to off but users can chose to receive reminders after a chosen amount of months, dependent on personal preference. The suggested time frames are based on recommendations by the CDC for some sexually active gay and bisexual men.
When users receive the reminder in their Grindr inbox, they are given an option to find a HIV testing facility based on location, as well as how to update their profile to include their status within their profile.
The program was launched as a part of Grindr for Equality (G4E), a unique program within Grindr focused on the ever-evolving mission to promote justice, health, safety, and more for LGBTQ individuals around the globe. G4E works with health, digital rights and LGBTQ/human rights organizations as well as local community leaders and queer activists to find ways of using the Grindr app, technology and platform to mobilize, inform, protect and empower Grindr users.
At the time of its launch, the new features were widely applauded by the HIV prevention, research and LGBTQ communities. See our story in the New York Times as evidence of this: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/26/health/grindr-hiv-test-reminder.html.