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.
Last year in April, I wrote about what was on my Mac. Needless to say that a lot has happen since April 2020 in the world — including me getting a new MacBook — but it would seem that my app situation on the Mac hasn’t changed much.
Or has it?
On the 7 apps I listed last year, only 3 remain:
Gone from my Mac setup: 4 apps:
- 1Password: the best app I had to let go. Owning a Mac and an iPhone, you can really appreciate Apple Keychain and its integration. I could not continue to justify the annual costs of a feature that is already included in all my devices. For 2FA passwords, I have Authy on my phone.
- Pastebot: after I learned how to configure and use this script from John Gruber, I just didn’t need a clipboard manager anymore.
- Tweetbot: having the Twitter website pinned in Safari is just good enough for my current use of Twitter.
- DuckDuckGo Essentials: upgraded to a full ad blocker because sadly that seems to be where the web is at nowadays.
These 4 apps are back in 2021, or new:
- Wipr: the content blocker I just mentioned. Works great.
- Fission: Rogue Amoeba apps are famous for their quality, and when I bought this app a few years ago, I was instantly rewarded with it the only time I had to use it. Since I bought it, I might as well keep it around, just in case.
- Piezo: Same story than Fission, but I use it more often. For instance I used it a few weeks ago to have a backup recording of my voice while being a guest on my friend Sarah’s podcast The Paris Quiz Mistress. Great little app.
- Save to Pocket: the Safari extension for saving links to Pocket. That’s right, Pocket made a come back in my life after I stopped using it when it was still called Read It Later. Back then I switched to Instapaper, and then to Apple’s Reading List. The lack of certain features in the latter eventually got me to use Pocket again.
- I still use the included Solar gradients wallpaper on my Mac: I just wish it existed for iOS too.
- I let the computer switch automatically from light to dark mode, depending on the time of the day. I find this to be the right way to use dark mode.
- Twitter as a pinned tab works great. I think Safari nails the behaviour of pinned tabs in a browser.
- After uninstalling a lot of apps last year, I think I am now in a good place, more balanced: I still use a lot of native apps such as TextEdit, Keynote, Pages, Keychain, Reminders, Notes, Mail, etc.
- My keyboard shortcuts situation is pretty good when it comes to my blogging routine. Another area where the Mac is great.
Thank you for reading, please let me know on Twitter what are the apps you have on your Mac, always interesting to know what other people’s setup look like.
Lauren Oyler, in the New York Times Magazine, writes about how good semicolons are, despite being unpopular:
I don’t remember when I first learned about semicolons, nor do I have a mental list of remarkable semicolons in literature. I don’t want to have to treasure them, though the typical advice for writers of all levels is to use them sparingly, as if there’s a limited supply. This only breeds fear, which in turn breeds stigma: Semicolons are ugly, pretentious and unnecessary; they immaturely try to have it both ways. There are so many things to fear in life, but punctuation is not one of them.
Semicolons are the weird ones. Semicolons are like this friend you like but don’t want to spend too much time alone with, fearing you won’t like them as much afterwards, afraid it would ruin the illusion of what you thought this friendship was. So you see them from time to time — but not too often, when you’re confident, and within a group of mutual friends: commas, dots, dashes.
Think of semicolons as instant noodles: delicious, easy to get, extremely satisfying. You don’t need to look at the ingredients — trust me it’s a bad idea — but you are nevertheless very much aware than you should only treat yourself with this Spicy Curry Duck flavour once in a while: these things are basically spicy salt broths; did I mention they are delicious? I love semicolons.
Of course I can’t write about semicolons without mentioning Frank Herbert’s use of the semicolon in what is arguably my favourite passage of Dune (1965):
Polish comes from the cities; wisdom from the desert.
I can’t tell you how mad it makes me to see this sentence written with a comma instead of a semicolon, or worse, without anything between cities and wisdom: this character adds a je ne sais quoi which makes this sentence feel deeper and more meaningful somehow. It is hard to describe, but Lauren Oyler then has the perfect definition for the semicolon:
The semicolon conveys a very specific kind of connection between ideas that is particularly useful now — it asserts a link where the reader might not necessarily see one while establishing the fragility of that link at the same time.
That belongs in a museum.
Another excellent piece by Ben Thompson on Stratechery, this one describing where exactly Clubhouse fits in the social media landscape, and why it may succeed. The whole piece is very smart and insightful and I highly recommend reading it. This part on Facebook got my attention:
Still, the discussion of all of these different networks really does highlight how Facebook is unique: while Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok are all first and foremost about the medium, and only then the network, Facebook is about the network first. That is how the service has evolved from text to images to video and, I wouldn’t be surprised, to audio. This also explains why Facebook managed the shift to mobile so well; for these other networks, meanwhile, it was mobile that was the foundation for their transformative breakthroughs.
That is why I would actually give Facebook’s upcoming Clubhouse competitor a better chance than Twitter’s already-launched offering. Facebook takes innovations developed in different apps for interest-based networks and adds them to its relationship-based network; at the same time, this also means that Facebook is never going to be a real competitor for Clubhouse, which seems more likely to recreate Twitter’s interest-based network than Twitter is likely to recreate the vibrancy of Clubhouse.
Another reason as to why Facebook’s upcoming Clubhouse competitor will probably have more success than Twitter’s: Twitter. When was the last time Twitter introduced something really useful, well done, and really interesting? Years at least. We will see how they will try not to ruin their Revue acquisition, but I don’t see Twitter compete against anyone when it comes to new products, hence why Facebook probably has a better chance.
Also, if Clubhouse aims at recreating Twitter’s interest-based network, why on Earth would they use a user’s phone contact list first to build a user’s network?
As for Clubhouse, I think they need to work fast on what is expected of an app in 2021: Privacy, security, transparency, avoiding weird connections to China, moderation, and some easy way for users to delete their account and data, which is currently not the case. On this lack of option for deleting one’s account, Joe Macleod tweeted:
The more I think of this, the more shocking I find it. It is something that is driving me to talk about / designing ends. Off-boarding should be part of the design.
Exactly. I had to send an email and ask for my data to be deleted. An email!
Describing Clubhouse, Thompson adds:
[Clubhouse actions fit] the stereotype of a new social network scrambling to capture the market first, and worrying about potential downsides later.
Clubhouse would have been fine with this strategy in 2013. In 2021, I’m not sure they’re doing enough to succeed, and acting like they do, I don’t think they deserve to succeed.
Maybe facing competition from serious names like Twitter, Facebook, and whichever company that will steal the idea will help them do better. At this point, the bar for doing better sadly isn’t very high.
Will Oremus, one Medium’s OneZero, about how the hot new app Clubhouse is pushing users to get their phone’s contact list and how the unclear use of that data can be problematic:
Once you’ve agreed to upload your phone’s address book, Clubhouse uses it to recommend people to follow who are already on the app, which is common practice for social apps these days. But it soon becomes apparent that Clubhouse also takes it a few steps further, in ways that are both creative and a little creepy.
This article is a must-read, especially if you’re wondering whether or not you should join Clubhouse. Using phone numbers to build a social graph is not only weird for an app such as Clubhouse — focused on personal interests like Twitter, not relationships like Facebook — but coupled with the “mandatory” use of real names, it can truly become problematic for many people.
Clubhouse may or may not be the worst offender in terms of how it handles contacts that users upload. It’s conceivable that the company has thoughtful data-handling practices that mitigate the risks, although its nonresponse to my inquiry isn’t the most encouraging sign.
A social media company has to do better in 2021 and we, experienced users, should not be OK with all this. I’ve made the mistake of giving Clubhouse access to my contact list, and now it’s too late. If you decide to join Clubhouse, I think you should wait before allowing anything. It doesn’t seem like a big deal when you join the app, but then you think of all the implications and realise that Oremus is right: it is a little creepy.
Clubhouse’s FAQ/support page is incomplete, sometimes can’t even be accessed, and there is still not a simple, secure way to delete your account or data. How is this not a priority for them? Clubhouse should not get a pass on this, this is not the year 2011.
The sudden hype to join the hot new social network is strong: you want to experience it yourself, you want that sweet username saved, you want to show your network that you’re already on it, that you’re one of the cool kids. This hype should not blind you to the risks now too well-known regarding privacy and what happens to your data. I am now seriously considering emailing Clubhouse to ask for my account and data to be fully deleted, not out of spite or the decidedly poor interest I have for the app, but as a matter of principle.
UPDATE: 12 hours later I’ve now asked for my Clubhouse account and data to be deleted.
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