Grindr isn't unique or new in this respect. Manhunt, Jack'd, Scruff and Maleforce all have iPhone or Android apps, and sites like GayRomeo.com, Adam4Adam.com and gaydar.co.uk have been letting gay/bi/curious men filter user profiles by geographic location for years. Such sites, applications, and the practices they make possible are becoming almost downright mainstream: Sharif Mowlabocus wrote a whole book on what he calls "Gaydar Culture"; Online Buddies (the makers of Manhunt) partners with academics to conduct innovative world-wide research on online gay male practices; and Grindr CEO Joel Simkhai was a panelist this year at SXSW Interactive.
So if all of this is becoming so seemingly mainstream, why is it being linked to sex offenders?
To answer the first question of who made this association between Grindr and Sex Offender Search: it is those who design and maintain the Android Marketplace, the Droid's version of Apple's App Store. To be fair, Apple has had its own struggles deciding what kinds of apps to sell: for a while it rejected a cartoon app created by Pulitzer Prize-winning Mark Fiore because it "ridiculed public figures"; and it recently deleted an app designed by a religious group to "cure" gay people. The problem of deciding what to sell through the app store is not new. But we're far from fully understanding the ethical obligations that Apple, Google and others have when their platforms act as de facto regulators of free speech.
The second question -- how was this association made -- is harder to answer. Google, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook don't make public the systems and algorithms they use to create relationships among data. Is the Android Marketplace noticing a large overlap between those who download Grindr and those who install Sex Offender Search? This seems unlikely given their two very different target audiences.
Was this an editorial decision made by a human curator of the Marketplace who thought the two applications were somehow related? This curious choice would say more about the curator than the applications.
Does some part of the system consider the applications' Marketplace categories -- "Social" for Grindr and "Lifestyle" for Sex Offenders Search -- so similar that it thinks users would be interested seeing connections between the categories? This is plausible but there are many other applications in both categories that might be linked -- why these two?
Finally, are terms the application creators themselves use to describe their programs considered similar through some automatic keyword matching algorithm? Sex Offender Search lists these key words: sex offender search, sex offenders, megan's law, megan law, child molesters, sexual predators, neighborhood safety, criminals, Life360, Life 360. The description of Grindr lists no keywords but says that it "only allows males 18 years or older" to download the application and that "[p]hotos depicting nudity or sex acts are strictly prohibited." The only word common to both applications is "sex." But the word "sex" also appears in Deep Powder Software's "Marine Biology" application. It's hard to see the overlap among these three applications yet, for some reason, the Marketplace thinks the most relevant application to Grinder is Sex Offender Search.