Colorado Catholic Group Bought Data to Out Priests Using Dating Apps

Michelle Boorstein and Heather Kelly, Washington Post:

A group of conservative Colorado Catholics has spent millions of dollars to buy mobile app tracking data that identified priests who used gay dating and hookup apps and then shared it with bishops around the country.


One report prepared for bishops says the group’s sources are data brokers who got the information from ad exchanges, which are sites where ads are bought and sold in real time, like a stock market. The group cross-referenced location data from the apps and other details with locations of church residences, workplaces and seminaries to find clergy who were allegedly active on the apps, according to one of the reports and also the audiotape of the group’s president.

Boorstein and Kelly say some of those behind this group also outed a priest two years ago using similar tactics, which makes it look like a test case for this more comprehensive effort. As they write, a New York-based Reverend said at the time it was justified to expose priests who had violated their celibacy pledge. That is a thin varnish on what is clearly an effort to discriminate against queer members of the church. These operations have targeted clergy by using data derived almost exclusively by the use of gay dating apps.

Data brokers have long promised the information they supply is anonymized but, time and again, this is shown to be an ineffective means of protecting users’ privacy. That ostensibly de-identified data was used to expose a specific single priest’s use of Grindr in 2021, and the organization in question has not stopped. Furthermore, nothing would prevent this sort of exploitation by groups based outside the United States, which may be able to obtain similar data to produce the same — or worse — outcomes.

This is some terrific reporting by Boorstein and Kelly.