Judge Clears Grindr of Malicious Harassment

A screenshot of one of the fake profiles described in the complaint against hook-up app Grindr.

MANHATTAN (CN) — A federal judge dismissed a 14-count lawsuit against Grindr on Thursday, finding that the hook-up app for gay men is not liable for the malicious harassment wrought by an ex-boyfriend’s fake profile.

U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni dismissed with prejudice all claims but one for copyright infringement, which she dismissed without prejudice.

Matthew Herrick blamed Grindr for malicious harassment after a former boyfriend posted fake profiles on the site, “which describe Herrick as being interested in fetishistic sex, bondage, role playing, and rape fantasies and which encourage potential suitors to go to Herrick’s home or workplace for sex,” Caproni wrote in her case summary.

It continued: “Allegedly hundreds of interested Grindr users have responded to the false profiles and many of them have physically sought out Herrick. This lawsuit is, however, against Grindr, not Herrick’s former boyfriend.”

The gist of his 14 claims was that Grindr was defectively designed and manufactured because it has no built-in safety features; that it misled Herrick into believing that it could protect him from impersonating profiles; and that it wrongfully refused to search for and remove the impersonations, Caproni wrote.

Unfortunately for Herrick, the judge concluded, “while the creation of the impersonating profiles may be sufficiently extreme and outrageous, Grindr did not create the profiles.”

She agreed with Grindr that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 “immunizes Grindr for content created by others.”

Herrick sued Grindr a year ago, claiming it ignored his 50 requests to remove fake profiles set up by his abusive ex-boyfriend, which caused hundreds of men showed up at his home or work expecting “fetishistic sex, bondage, role playing, and rape fantasies.”

He said Grindr did not use “proven and common image recognition or duplicate-detection software,” which could have protected him.

Herrick was represented by Brooklyn-based victims’ rights attorney Carrie Goldberg. The New Yorker magazine profiled Goldberg in a Dec. 5, 2016, article, “The Attorney Fighting Revenge Porn,” which called her “a pioneer in the field of sexual privacy, using the law to defend victims of hacking, leaking, and other online assaults.”

A representative for the attorney criticized Caproni’s ruling. “We expect the Second Circuit to educate this judge on her misguided decision,” the representative said in an email.

In dismissing, aside from CDA immunity, Caproni wrote: “Herrick’s misrepresentation-related claims fail on their merits because Herrick has not alleged a misleading or false statement by Grindr or that Grindr’s alleged misstatements are the cause of his injury.”

The judge added: “it is not plausible that a reasonable person could conclude from the Terms of Service and community values page that Grindr has made any representation regarding its commitment to remove improper content.”

Dismissing Herrick’s fraud claim, Caproni said Grindr reserved the right to remove illicit content, “but they do not represent that Grindr will do so.”

Grindr, based in West Hollywood, bills itself as the largest and most popular site in the world for gay and bisexual men, with nearly 10 million users in 192 countries. It says more than a fifth of it users are in the United States, with more than 426,000 users in New York City, making New York City its top metro area globally.

Caproni gave Herrick until Jan. 31 to file a motion for leave to amend his copyright claim.

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