Clubhouse may be cooler than a glacier but that doesn’t make it safe?
Back in the days before the pandemic, all of the most exclusive clubs had these things called guestlists. If you were one of the people cool enough, you could go inside and bump clavicles with other members of the social elite. If you name wasn’t on the list then you were destined to live a life standing outside the door, hearing the fun but never being able to enjoy it. Thanks to the internet, that place exists on social media now as well. It’s called Clubhouse and it is officially the new coolest place to be on the internet, if you can get in. Before you allow envy to begin nibbling on your toes, there is a little bit of schadenfreude-fuelled joy that those of us who are not cool enough to have been invited onto Clubhouse can revel in. Just like your favourite call centre, your conversations on Clubhouse are being recorded.
If you are unfamiliar with it, Clubhouse is an invitation only social media app that allows users to communicate via audio. Kind of like if Snapchat suddenly developed an obsession with seminars. Users can create or join rooms and if you feel compelled to say something you can simply “raise your hand” and if the speaker is interested in what you have to say then they can then choose to invite you up to the “podium”. There is no video, no cameras and no text. All you can do is talk. The app has been growing steadily in popularity since it launched in March last year, but it really kicked off when billionaire Bond villain Elon Musk and one of the world’s richest university drop outs Mark Zuckerberg started popping into rooms to discuss Mars, privacy and becoming a multi-planetary species.
On the surface of it, this all seems very lovely but earlier this month the app ran into a little bit of trouble. According to internet security think-tank, The Stanford Internet Observatory (SIO), your Clubhouse conversations are not as secure as you think. In fact some of them may be recorded.
“SIO has determined that a user’s unique Clubhouse ID number and chatroom ID are transmitted in plaintext, and Agora (the company that supplies the back end infrastructure for the app) would likely have access to users’ raw audio, potentially providing access to the Chinese government. In at least one instance, SIO observed room metadata being relayed to servers we believe to be hosted in the People’s Republic of China, and audio to servers managed by Chinese entities and distributed around the world via Anycast,” explained the think tank.
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So does any of this matter? In the end probably not. As the app continues to roll out and eventually gets released to the general public, we will all flock to it just so we can sit in digital conference rooms and listen to Elon Musk and AKA discuss where the best place to get a fade is. The truth is, most of us are not all that fussed about giving companies our data. Unfortunately that indifference will return to bite us in the bums when our Facebook algorithms convince us that getting vaccinated causes autism (which it doesn’t!).