April 17 (UPI) — A New York man suing dating app Grindr alleges 1,100 men have showed up at his home and work looking for sexual encounters due to an ex-boyfriend’s meddling.
Attorneys for Matthew Herrick, 32, of Brooklyn, said an ex-boyfriend their client met on Grindr has been carrying out an elaborate revenge scheme after the relationship ended involving fake accounts on the dating app that instruct men seeking sex to visit his home and workplace.
“My entire life has been stolen from me. My privacy has been taken from me. I’m humiliated daily,” Herrick told an interview with Wired magazine. “It’s a living hell.”
The complaint says the men first started appearing in October 2016, and many of the visitors who arrive at his apartment and the restaurant where he works were told by the fake accounts to expect him to be initially resistant to their advances “as part of an agreed upon rape fantasy or role play.”
“They were setting him up to be sexually assaulted,” said Carrie Goldberg, one of Herrick’s lawyers. “It’s just luck that it hasn’t happened yet.”
The lawyers said the fake profiles using Herrick’s photo and personal details include falsehoods including claims he is HIV positive.
Experts said the case Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act is likely to come into play in the case. The act, which gives online companies broad immunity from being held responsible for user-generated content, was previously cited in a case where Grindr was cleared of liability in a suit brought by a man who had a sexual encounter with another site user who turned out to be a minor.
“Much of our work is about finding the cracks and holes in [Section] 230,” Goldberg told CNN. “Companies don’t deserve special protections when their product is dangerous and [Section] 230 doesn’t give them protection in such cases.”
The lawsuit was originally filed in January and moved to a federal court in February at Grindr’s request.
The suit states the fake profiled have been reported in Grindr’s app more than 100 times, but each received only a generic reply — “thank you for your report” — and the harassment was not curbed.
Grindr released a statement saying the company is “committed to creating a safe environment through a system of digital and human screening tools, while also encouraging users to report suspicious and threatening activities. While we are constantly improving upon this process, it is important to remember that Grindr is an open platform. Grindr cooperates with law enforcement on a regular basis and does not condone abusive or violent behavior.”
Herrick’s ex-boyfriend denied setting up the fake profiles when contacted by CNN, but he declined to comment further.
Goldberg said she is considering a move to pressure Apple and Google to remove the Grindr app from their stores.
“If a court won’t hold Grindr responsible for having a dangerous product … we’d need to examine the liability of the ‘sellers’ that are making available a dangerous product,” she said. “This lawsuit puts them on notice that a dangerous product, one purportedly not controllable by its manufacturer, is being downloaded from their marketplaces.”