A Grindr Harassment Suit Could Change the Legal Landscape For Tech – and Free Speech
Months of harassment led Matthew Herrick to file a lawsuit against the dating app — and he’s using laws meant to protect consumers from dangerous products to do so.
By David Ingram
[A guy named Matthew Herrick was harassed by his ex boyfriend on the Grinder app for many months]
He also filed a lawsuit against Grindr in 2017. The alleged harassment continued for months, even after Herrick obtained a temporary restraining order against Grindr that required the company to disable the impersonating profiles.
Herrick’s story echoes the online harassment that many people have experienced, often with little to no legal consequences for the companies that created the technology in question. A 1996 law designed to foster free speech online generally protects companies from liability.
But Herrick is pursuing an unusual legal theory as he continues to push back against Grindr, arguing that tech companies should face greater accountability for what happens on their platforms.
His lawsuit alleges that the software developers who write code for Grindr have been negligent, producing an app that’s defective in its design and that is “fundamentally unsafe” and “unreasonably dangerous” — echoing language that’s more typically used in lawsuits about, say, a faulty kitchen appliance or a defective car part.
If successful, the lawsuit could bring about a significant legal change to the risks tech companies face for what happens on their platforms, adding to growing public and political pressure for change.
“This is a case about a company abdicating responsibility for a dangerous product it released into the stream of commerce,” his lawsuit argues, adding: “Grindr’s inaction enables the weaponization of its products and services.”
…A federal appeals court is scheduled to consider the subject on Monday, weighing whether Herrick’s case should be allowed to move forward after a federal district judge threw it out last year. A ruling is likely within a few months.
The tech industry is pushing back on Herrick, saying in court papers that he is trying to artfully skirt the protections afforded free speech online.