UPDATE: In the wake of Out's initial report and inquiries questioning the inclusion of kissing and hugging as things that can not appear in profile photos, Scruff has changed their policy. After revealing that Scruff had been removed from an app store earlier this year (which "would have been devastating to our company and our community,") company CEO Eric Silverberg wrote in an update that the company has “clarified our policy by removing references to hugging and kissing — it is specifically sexually suggestive embraces that may not align with app store guidelines.” New bans on photos including jockstraps, underwear or bikini-style apparel still remain.
"Given that Scruff is a community that speaks openly and positively about sex, bodies, and intimacy, some feel that such policies are at odds with those values. Such criticism is not unfounded," Silverberg wrote. "Scruff respects the concerns voiced by our community on this matter, and we encourage everyone to continue to hold us, and all tech companies, accountable for the content and conduct standards we enforce."
ORIGINAL: On Wednesday, Scruff users received a pop-up message when opening the app to check their messages, scroll through their grinds or check the in-app event listings. “Profile photo guidelines are changing,” the alert said. “To comply with platform policies, photos in underwear, jockstraps or bikini style bathing suits are no longer permitted in profile photos.” Users shared screenshots of the message on Twitter almost immediately.
“Craigslist. Backpage. Tumblr. Now even @ScruffApp, a gay dating app you have to be of consenting age to use, is censoring how users can post photos,” Amp Somers, host of Watts the Safeword, wrote when he posted the alert. “This isn’t lookin so good guys …” In the message he hashtagged SESTA and FOSTA, legislation that legislators say was intended to crack down on internet sex traffickers but that has spurred a darkening “sex panic” across the internet causing censorship and erasure of spaces once thought to be sex-positive, queer sex havens.
Craigslist. Backpage. Tumblr. Now even @scruffapp, a gay dating app you have to be of consenting age to use, is censoring how it's users can post photos?
This isn't lookin so good guys... #sesta #fosta pic.twitter.com/w8UjOUEjqX
— Amp (@Pup_Amp) January 24, 2019
The update is specific to profile photos (excluding private albums and photos exchanged in messages) and applies to all styles of apparel in which the crotch or groin area is highlighted or outlined. Pictures that violate these guidelines will be automatically converted into private album images and users will be prompted to select another profile photo. The initial alert was sent out Wednesday as Scruff had been contacted by app store distributors earlier this month with a warning, Scruff CEO Eric Silverberg tells Out in an email interview. Previously, certain photos in underwear and jockstraps were allowed.
“Our policy is not related to FOSTA/SESTA,” Silverberg says. “Our change is meant to align our content standards with the evolving content standards of our app store distributors.”
Being banned from app stores can be catastrophic for companies like Scruff, Grindr (which also bans underwear and “crotch shots from any angle” in its guidelines) and Jack’d, all gay dating services that solely function as apps. Ignoring guidelines can definitely lead to a ban: Tumblr was pulled off of Apple’s App Store for violations and after 17 days, announced plans to ban all adult content from the platform. Subsequent to the ban going in place, the app was restored to the App Store. Silverberg did not confirm which app store Scruff’s new guidelines are in compliance with.
While this may seem reasonable, in a section of the guidelines titled “SEXUAL,” the new policies read, “No photos of kissing, hugging or facial expressions related to sexual acts.” The designation would infer that there is something inherently sexual and objectionable about two men kissing or hugging.
“I would not say that photos of that kind are banned under any context,“ Silverberg says when asked about that guideline. He says all profile photos will be graded on a case-by-case basis and questions can be forwarded to the in-app Support team. “Scruff profiles represent one individual (or couples), and the public profile image should give you an indication of, or information about, the person behind the profile. In general, public profile photos that specifically depict kissing, hugging or sexualized facial expressions aren't going to achieve that goal as well as a face pic or body pic. To be clear, we also do not require a public profile photo, and many members (especially those who are not out) choose to share photos directly in private chat.“
From what we can see, neither Grindr, Jack’d, Recon, nor Hornet enforce similar policies banning imagery of hugging or kissing on their platforms.