Priest’s cellphone activity costs him his job

data used to identify users

A top official within the US Catholic church resigned (Tuesday) after cellphone data obtained through a broker appeared to show he was a frequent user of the gay dating app Grindr.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a memo that Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill had resigned as its general secretary. This came after staff had learned on Monday of “impending media reports alleging possible improper behaviour.”

The Pillar published an article on Wednesday that presented evidence the priest engaged in serial sexual misconduct.

The data captured by The Pillar highlights the invasive threat posed by mobile data.

Pillar said its analysis of the app data “correlated” to Burrill’s cellphone. It shows he visited gay bars in several cities between 2018 and 2020 while using the app.

The article does not report that Burrill did anything illegal. However, homosexual acts are considered a sin according to Catholic teaching. Ordained priests are required to make a vow of celibacy.

It is not immediately clear how The Pillar obtained the data.

Brokered data is being used to identify the activities of cellphone users, confirming the long-voiced concerns of privacy experts.

A primary concern of privacy experts involves a concept known as “device fingerprinting”. This is where a user can be identified, even when the data is supposed to be anonymous.

A tracker does this by looking for a unique and persistent way a person uses technology. The identity can be determined based on the location, time and activity, all of which can be collected through permission granted when the app is downloaded.

Security researchers have also found that apps are collecting more data than users are led to believe.

A report in 2019 found that more than 1,000 apps were taking data even after users denied them permissions, allowing them to gather precise geolocation data and phone identifiers.

In an article published Monday, the Catholic News Agency said it had received an offer in 2018 from individuals who claimed to have access to technology capable of tracking priests who download dating apps.

The news organization said it declined the proposal at the time. But it warned that “there are reports this week that information targeting allegedly active homosexual priests may become public.”


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