ClubhouseClubhouse is currently the most downloaded program in Apple's App Store. The entrance fee is personal data. The provider records all comments and, in many cases, transfers address book entries from the users' cell phones to company servers, where they can be used for marketing and advertising purposes. What’s so special about the app is that you can only join by invitation.

Clubhouse started in March 2020 in the USA by the US company Alpha Exploration which is now valued at an estimated $ 100 million.

The app's secret to success: it comes at the right time for the digital start-up scene that must deal with the current Coronavirus restrictions. Podcasts, digital panels, and open discussions with experts provide freelancers and employees in digital professions with a lot of inspiration as well as numerous opportunities for further training and networking. In the discussion rooms of the Clubhouse app, you can certainly find now a lot of well-known celebrities from business, politics, and sport, who discuss live there or listen to the discussions in a podcast.

The fact that the app can only be used by invitation has a certain elitist charm that makes it even more appealing to join, but at the same time there are a lot of criticisms regarding data protection.

To use Clubhouse, you are asked to grant the app access to the address book of your iPhone. Without this access, no friends can be invited and there are restrictions in the use of the app. However, since Clubhouse allows users to pass on the contact details from their own address book, no violation of data protection law can be found in the app itself. So, is the access to Clubhouse really worth your data release, which even affects other uninvolved contacts? The problem here is that the contact details of address book contacts who are not yet registered with Clubhouse are transmitted to the company without their consent.

The information that the conversations in the discussion rooms are being temporarily recorded also caused a stir among data protection officers. The developers justify this by saying that they can track down possible violations of the Terms of Service.

But if you look at the Terms of Service or the Privacy Policy, the data protection regulations from Clubhouse, one thing is particularly noticeable—the founding company Alpha Exploration Co. supposedly fulfills its information obligations by naming the data that the app processes in the data protection regulations and specifying the purposes of the data processing; however, the GDPR is not mentioned anywhere. Even if the company Alpha Exploration Co. is based in the USA, the company must adhere to the provisions of the GDPR because the personal data of EU citizens are processed.

Let’s take a closer look again how Clubhouse works: anyone who wants to be included in the selected group of Clubhouse users must receive an invitation from a friend or acquaintance. Android users are unlucky anyway since the hyped social media app Clubhouse is only available for iPhone users so far, but in future it should also be able to run on smartphones with the Google Android operating system too. In the Apple App Store, the app is currently No. 2 of the most downloaded apps and has according to the founders around two million active users and growing rapidly. Anyway, once you have created a profile on Clubhouse, you can exchange ideas in public discussion rooms within the app. You can also start discussions yourself and to network with friends, you can also meet in closed rooms. Within a discussion room, the participants take on the functions of moderators, speakers, or listeners. The moderators lead the discussions, can give the speakers the floor or “throw them off the stage”. The speakers actively contribute to the discussion, while the listeners only consume the discussion like a live podcast. You can, however, speak up at the push of a button to also contribute to the discussion. In your own profile you sometimes indicate your interests, but you can also refer to your accounts on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or Tiktok. It also shows who has invited you to the Clubhouse.

Despite the criticism, the hype surrounding the app continues with invitations even being sold on eBay and there are public lists circulating on Twitter in which interested parties can register for Telegram groups where they in turn can receive an invitation: once they have signed up, they must then invite the next person on the list.

The founders of the app Paul Davison and Rohan Seth have already announced in an official statement that it will soon be able to register with Clubhouse without an invitation. When that will happen, however, is still written in the stars. For the time being, the app's elitist charm will continue to be exploited and the number of interested parties keeps increasing.

The data protection check by Stiftung Warentest shows that Clubhouse is not only hungry for data, but also violates European law in several points—in particular the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The rights granted by the provider for the use of user data are too extensive, consumers are not adequately informed about their rights and no person responsible for data processing is named. In addition, there is no imprint. We recommend keeping an eye on the app de jure.

By Daniela La Marca