Clubhouse – the new “drop in voice chat” app – has been generating buzz following some high profile endorsements from Elon Musk and Bill Gates, crossing the 10 million mark in downloads. Clubhouse gives users the ability to listen to audio-only conversations in real time – much like a podcast with a live audience – and perhaps get the chance to speak as well. It’s billed as an ephemeral take on communication; once the room is closed, nothing else remains – recordings are lost and no data is left behind.
At least, that’s the claim.
Based on recent findings, it seems like this might not be entirely accurate, and there are grave concerns about how it handles private information. Despite the suggestion that it lives entirely within the moment, it appears that Clubhouse’s terms of service indicate there are indeed ways for data to be recorded and kept. Beyond that, a large portion of the platform is dedicated to third party data sharing.
“Solely for the purpose of supporting incident investigations, we temporarily record the audio in a room while the room is live. If a user reports a Trust and Safety violation while the room is active, we retain the audio for the purposes of investigating the incident, and then delete it when the investigation is complete. If no incident is reported in a room, we delete the temporary audio recording when the room ends.”
Whether or not Clubhouse abides by this remains to be seen, and worse yet, there’s no qualifying limitations to explain who can listen to a recording or what exactly may be done with it.
Others are sharing your data
One of Clubhouse’s central tenants is that an existing user can sign up new users, but they must give up their entire contacts database to do so, with no option to exclude any entries. So if your friend is signed up and you aren’t right now, your data is already in possession. Clubhouse also accesses social media data for any existing user, which means there’s a second avenue for your data to be tapped.
Distressingly, there’s no way (currently) to have your data expunged from the app. This suggests it would fail standards set by the UK’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which guarantees users the right to erasure of personal details from platforms and digital spaces.
Accounts can’t be deleted
While it’s troubling if you cannot delete data without being a user, know that users themselves cannot delete their own accounts. There are no options to do this within the app; users can email “email@example.com” but there is no information on when requests may be handled.
No notifications about your data
As with any other audience-building application, the ultimate goal will be to monetize the userbase. While Clubhouse does indicate this could happen with future affiliates, it also states that it will not notify users if and when data has been shared out. This is being used in conjunction with tracking systems, which will allow targeted advertisement from outside sources.
Uncertainty lies ahead
While it appears that audio spaces may become a new frontier in social media, there are several questions regarding how these platforms will work to safeguard personal data. It’s big business – Clubhouse is valued at over $100 million already – but these privacy concerns are certainly significant.