The app „Clubhouse“ is on everyone’s lips and has seen a considerable rush of users. Unfortunately, popular apps are not automatically privacy-friendly.

So look closely when following a trend in apps and online services.

Digital communication in pandemic times

During the Corona pandemic, three-quarters of Internet users in Germany are more active on social media: Overall, 75% say they have used such platforms more intensively since the outbreak of the Corona virus in Germany, according to a survey by digital association Bitkom.

New social networks and apps are also now experiencing a high level of interest when it comes to digital communication. One prominent example is the app „Clubhouse.“ The service sees itself as a social network and enables private and public audio conferences and discussions.

„Right now, many people have an overwhelming interest in a new discursive platform that promises exciting communication and informal exchange with others,“ says Johannes Caspar, Hamburg’s Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information. „However, the app raises many questions about protecting the privacy of users and third parties,“ warns the data protection commissioner.

Scrutinize app permissions

Data protectionists criticize something about Clubhouse that has previously attracted negative attention with other apps and social networks. For example, the address books in the mobile devices of those users who invite other people are automatically read out and stored by the operators in the USA. As a result, contact data of numerous people, without them even coming into contact with the app, ends up in foreign hands, where they could then be used for advertising purposes or for contact requests. According to the operators, they also store the recordings of all conversations held in the various rooms in order to track abuses without the closer circumstances becoming transparent.

Better pay attention to data protection in apps

„As a user, you don’t know what exactly happens to the data,“ explains Professor Kugelmann, the State Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information in Rhineland-Palatinate, as well. For these reasons alone, he says, as the state data protection commissioner, he can only recommend not downloading and not using the app. Providers targeting European users must respect their rights to information, disclosure, objection and deletion. At the same time, there is an obligation to ensure thattechnical and organizational measures are in place to protect the data. There are currently some doubts about all of this with the Clubhouse app. The German data protection supervisory authorities now want to check Clubhouse’s compliance with European data protection law.

Johannes Caspar commented, „Unfortunately, it happens again and again that providers from the U.S. enter the European market or are simply successful with their products and services in our country without complying with the most basic data protection requirements of the European digital market.“ This example shows that users need to take a closer look at what a popular app does with their data. Widespread distribution and popularity alone are not a sign of good data protection.