25 February 2021

A Clubhouse Story

Person A meets Person B on a dating app. They talk, they have fun, they decide to get a drink one day. They exchange phone numbers, as you do, stay on a first name basis, and meet in a crowded bar, in the city center.

The first date is weird. Person B is a bit strange in the eyes of Person A. Person B seems unhinged, impatient, and Person A knows this kind of person all too well. The days after the short and awkward date, Person B keeps texting and calling, Person A leaves the messages and the calls unanswered, and ends up blocking the phone number. Person B” will always remain this menacing ghost on Person A’s contact list.

Years later, Person A signs up for Clubhouse. Person A does not like the idea of giving the app access to their contact list, but everyone else does it, so what could go wrong? Clubhouse tells Person A that 25 people from that contact list are registered on Clubhouse. On that list: Person B.

Person A is smart. Person A knew that anyone with their phone number could have access to their profile on Clubhouse – whether they shared their own contact list or not — the same profile asking for a real name.” Person A decided to only fill in the first name, along with a picture of a neutral landscape, just in case.

Person B is very smart. Person B got a notification that Person A signed up for the app too, recognising the first name and figuring out who it was. Person A’s profile doesn’t have a last name but is followed by only 12 people for now. These people have their full name displayed, and their Twitter account linked to their Clubhouse profile. With a very small amount of work, Person B manages to cross-reference who these 12 people follow on Twitter sharing the same name first name with Person A.

Person A still hopes that this will not happen, but decides to delete their Clubhouse profile anyway: too risky. Person A emails Clubhouse for a full deletion of the profile and data.

Person B now knows Person A’s full name. Person B found Person A on LinkedIn and knows where Person A works.

I won’t finish this story, because it can end up in a hundred different ways, and this may be a little too much on the worst case scenario” side of things, but please tell me this cannot happen? How is this not possible? How didn’t anyone at Clubhouse think of this in 2021? And if they did think of this, how did they let it happen?

Is my small work of fiction completely unrealistic?

Why Clubhouse doesn’t have a simple toggle to turn your profile private?

Why Clubhouse doesn’t tell you more clearly how your phone number will be used on the app? It is not just about using your phone number as a unique ID to log onto the app, it is also a way for anyone to identify you. Even if you never sign up for Clubhouse, Clubhouse can tell that your phone number is associated with a name — your name — because people you gave your phone number to may have shared their contact list with the app.

Why Clubhouse doesn’t have a simple and easy way to delete your profile and data?

Like I said before, these terrible privacy issues are totally unacceptable in 2021. As users, we can be mad about fishy tracking practices in emails, we can be suspicious of every change in WhatsApp privacy policies, we can imagine the worst about Gmail, but we are OK with Clubhouse? Users — and especially tech-savvy users — have a responsibility to not be OK with this and let Clubhouse know, and journalists — especially tech journalists — cannot talk about the hype surrounding Clubhouse without mentioning these issues: it is a big deal.


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