To Clubhouse or not to Clubhouse?

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The new audio-chat app Clubhouse has recently been propelled forward as one the hottest startup apps to have, but getting it isn’t as simple as downloading it and creating a profile. Why is this, what is Clubhouse, and more importantly, is it safe?

Clubhouse can be described as an exclusive conference call and live podcast all rolled into one. The Clubhouse app user can join a live conversation/interview between individuals and listen-in. The same user can invite a non-user to join and listen to that and other conversations. That’s the only way to gain access to the app and its content. The very strict invitation-only feature of Clubhouse makes it seem like a highly elite app. What’s more, the conversations don’t get stored to be listened to again. Once it’s gone, it’s gone – unless, of course, you decided to record it or it is streamed on a platform like YouTube.

Only last year, Clubhouse was doing and growing well with people like Oprah, Drake, Kevin Hart en Chris Rock all using it in one way or another and adding to its increasing popularity. Yet it was still relatively small. That all changed the moment Elon Musk decided to host an audio chat with Vlad Tenev, the CEO of Robinhood and stream it to YouTube. In less than a month, this app has grown from just 2 million to 6 million users and is now valued at $1 billion putting it in the same league as other unicorn startups like Airbnb, Uber, and Grammarly.

For now Clubhouse is only available to iPhone users, though the developers have made it known that Android users will also have access to the app in future. This, however, is a small usage concern compared to some of the other safety and users issues that have grown nearly as fast as its popularity has.

Current and future users might be unsettled by the fact that there seems to be very few safety features. Since you can’t block a user or report harassment there seems to be a very real possibility that serious bullying and harassment can take place, and many users have already reported both. Additionally, there are no content moderation policies in place opening the app up to dangers like hate speech and discrimination.

The safety concerns don’t end there, however. If you do get invited to Clubhouse and decide that it is indeed the thing for you, don’t expect a whole lot of privacy. Your Clubhouse account is directly linked to your phone number, and even if you don’t allow access to you contacts, you are a contact in someone else’s phonebook leaving you open for other users to find you, be a suggested connection, follow you and interact with you – whether you want to be open to it or not.

The Stanford Internet Observatory also reported on Clubhouse’s vulnerabilities and the fact that Agora (based in Shanghai) provides the app’s back-end infrastructure. As many other social networking platforms, Clubhouse has since been banned in China. While Agora confirmed the privacy of its data, Clubhouse has indicated their intention to add additional encryption and prevent clients from transmitting pings to Chinese servers.

So, to Clubhouse or not to Clubhouse? Our answer – not yet. This app is still in its beta phase and as such there is still much that can and probably will change, or at the very least this is our hope. In a world were numerous safety and privacy issues from big social media platforms have been hashed and rehashed, we believe that as the app is developed and expanded its safety and privacy policies will improve too.