Why Clubhouse Might Be Untrustworthy with Your Contacts

UPDATE from March 5, 2021

While the below information is still important to consider, I must point out that Clubhouse updated their Privacy Policy on March 5, 2021:

Networks and connections: We collect information about the people, accounts, and clubs you are connected to and how you interact with them through our Service. If you choose to upload, sync, or import device information to Clubhouse (such as contacts in your address book), we may use this information to enhance your experience in various ways, including, but not limited to, notifying you when a contact has joined the waitlist or the Service. In addition, other users who have your contact information and have chosen to upload, sync, or import it from their device may be notified of when you join our Service (e.g., so they can join your “welcome room”); they may be able to know the number of people on the Service who have your number in their uploaded contacts, so that they can choose to invite people with many friends already on the Service. Finally, may we use your list of contacts (if you choose to provide us with access to them) to recommend other users you might want to follow and to recommend your account and content to others.

I'm very glad that they are now transparent about the fact users are uploading their contacts to Clubhouse and what Clubhouse is doing with them. I still think it's a potential privacy violation under GDPR and CCPA, but at least they're honest about it now.

Also, after several more emails to Clubhouse support, they finally told me they would delete my contacts from their servers. I'll just have to believe them unless I see a contact show up in my notifications again.

Original article continues:

Clubhouse is the latest social-media “crush.” It provides what I call “audio chatrooms.” Others call it “drop-in audio” or “social audio.”

My intent in this article isn't to tell you how to use it or refute the ridiculous claims that it will kill podcasting (but that just made my opinion obvious).

Instead, I want to warn you and plead with you to not to give the app access to your contacts.

Currently, joining Clubhouse is by invitation only. The experience is available on only iOS (designed for only iPhone; the app isn't optimized for iPad screens).

Clubhouse does not allow you to invite anyone directly, such as by entering an email or phone number, or getting an invitation link. The only way you can invite someone is if they (and their correct information) are in your contacts, and then you must allow Clubhouse to access your contacts.

This seems to be a big problem!

It even affected how I joined Clubhouse. A friend invited me, but sent the invitation to the phone number he has saved in his contacts—not the phone number I used when signing up for Clubhouse. Thus, Clubhouse now has a phone number I never wanted them to have. And the Clubhouse team couldn't (or wouldn't) correct the phone number mixup in their system, so I had to go through with setting up the wrong account in order to invite the right account.

That's a frustrating and seemingly poorly designed system. But my biggest concern is what's happening behind the scenes that could be violating the privacy of everyone in your contact list—without their consent!

Granting Clubhouse access to your contacts is the only way to invite someone. But even though you can later go into the iOS settings to revoke further access to your contacts, Clubhouse appears to save their own copy of all your contacts and their personal data on the Clubhouse servers! This is evidenced by my continuing to receive notifications about acquaintances who join clubhouse even though the only connection I have with them is through my contacts list (like an accountant I recently called)! We have no mutual friends, follow none of the same people, and have none of the same interests. I think the only way Clubhouse would know to tell me about their joining is by saving a copy of that other person's personal data from my contact list and associating that other person with my account.

This happens even for people who have only applied to join Clubhouse, but have not yet been invited and thus haven't shared their own contacts, yet.

And yes, this is all after I revoked access to my contacts. So they must be getting the information from my contact list stored on their servers.

This seems to indicate they have collected personal data about people without the consent of those people.

There's no way for me to delete my contacts from Clubhouse's servers, and my multiple emails requesting they delete my contacts have been ignored.

I've also asked what they're doing with my contacts and they have ignored those questions even in emails they were already responding to, but apparently ignoring that question.

This seems highly concerning!

And currently, none of this is disclosed in the Clubhouse Privacy Policy—no mention of their storing copies of my contacts, what they do with that list of contacts and third-party personal data, or whom they share that data with.

I urge you to not hand over your contact list to Clubhouse! This would seem to compromise the personal privacy of everyone on your contact list! (Some of your contacts could be under the protection of GDPR, CCPA, or other local privacy laws.)

I realize that until Clubhouse allows you to invite someone directly (by phone number, email, or shareable link), this means you would not be able to invite anyone.

Yup.

But isn't respecting your friends' rights to their own privacy more important?

Clubhouse team, if you're reading this, I urge you to fully disclose what you're doing with our contacts, honor requests to delete our contacts from your servers, and allow us to invite people without giving you access to all our contacts. Or if you're not keeping our contacts, then it would help to explain how you're matching users.

About the Author
As an award-winning podcaster, Daniel J. Lewis gives you the guts and teaches you the tools to launch and improve your own podcasts for sharing your passions and finding success. Daniel creates resources for podcasters, such as the SEO for Podcasters and Zoom H6 for Podcasters courses, the Social Subscribe & Follow Icons plugin for WordPress, the My Podcast Reviews global-review aggregator, and the Podcasters' Society membership for podcasters. As a recognized authority and influencer in the podcasting industry, Daniel speaks on podcasting and hosts his own podcast about how to podcast. Daniel's other podcasts, a clean-comedy podcast, and the #1 unofficial podcast for ABC's hit drama Once Upon a Time, have also been nominated for multiple awards. Daniel and his son live near Cincinnati.

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