Networking app Clubhouse raises privacy concerns

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(A data breach raises privacy concerns for Clubhouse)

The kids have TikTok and Triller. Now, there’s something for the adults. A clubhouse if you will. Actually that is the app’s name Clubhouse

When I was growing up we had party lines. Essentially group of teens would talk (mostly yell) over a very non-secure line and basically hit on each other. This was Tinder’s grandpa. But now take this party line concept and layer on jobs and networking site Linkedin.

Voila, Clubhouse, a social/careers networking audio-chat IOS app. Members can be a fly on the wall and listen in to conversations, interviews and discussions between interesting people on various topics. And yes, the people are interesting ranging from MC Hammer to Elon Musk. It’s exclusive talk radio for 2021.

Wait. Don’t rush off and download the Clubhouse app just yet. It’s by invite only. You can’t just download it off the app store and create an account. The app is very much like a RL club like Soho House or dating app Raya. You can’t get in unless invited by an existing member.

This is virtual elitism at its finest. But I like it.

When you join, you select topics of interest, like film, arts, tech, books, business, meditation and yes there is dating. Follow whomever you want and chances are they will follow you back. But you cannot DM anyone on Clubhouse, which is why you have to connect your Twitter and Instagram accounts.

The more information you give the app about your interests, the more conversation rooms and individuals the app will recommend you follow or join.

The Room or Club is just like a conference call, but with some people on the call talking, and most listening in. And, just like a phone call, once the conversation is over, the room is closed.

But is it safe for professionals to spill their guts without repercussions?


ALSO READ: TikTok gets a federal reprieve from ban


Clubhouse Suffers Data Breach

This past weekend, a YouTube user live-streamed a conversation room that was launched by ElonMusk. That’s a big no-no.

According to Bloomberg, which reported the leak, the unidentified user streamed Clubhouse audio feeds from “multiple rooms” into their own third-party website.

Reema Bahnasy, a spokeswoman for Clubhouse, told Bloomberg that the app has “permanently banned” that particular user and installed new “safeguards” to prevent a repeat, researchers contend the platform may not be in a position to make such promises.

The company has also said it is taking steps to ensure user data can’t be lifted and shared by hackers and spies.

Stanford Internet Observatory, which was first to publicly raise security concerns on Feb. 13, said late Sunday, “Clubhouse cannot provide any privacy promises for conversations held anywhere around the world.”

Alex Stamos, director of the SIO and Facebook Inc.’s former security chief, confirmed to Bloomberg that Clubhouse relies on a Shanghai-based startup Agora Inc. to handle much of its back-end operations.

While Clubhouse is responsible for its user experience, like adding new friends and finding interests, the platform relies on the Chinese company to process its data traffic and audio production, he said.

This partnership and dependence between Clubhouse and Agora does raise realistic privacy concerns especially for “Chinese citizens and dissidents.”

Clubhouse’s dependence on Agora raises extensive privacy concerns, especially for Chinese citizens and dissidents under the impression their conversations are beyond the reach of state surveillance, Stamos said.

In regards to the user behind the illegal streaming, they built their own system around the JavaScript toolkit used to compile the Clubhouse application. They effectively jury-rigged the platform, said Stamos.

“We are committed to making our products as secure as we can,” the company has said.


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While Clubhouse declined to explain to Bloomberg what steps it took to prevent a similar breach, solutions, according to Jack Cable of SIO, may include preventing the use of third-party applications to access chatroom audio without actually entering a room or simply limiting the number of rooms a user can enter simultaneously.

Once has to wonder if Clubhouse would exist if we weren’t stuck in a pandemic and in dire need of human connection. While I ponder that, I’m late for a screenwriting chat.

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Colin Costello is the West Coast Editor of Reel 360. Contact him at colin@reel360.com or follow him on Twitter at @colinthewriter1

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