Clubhouse, the hottest new social app, has been on a tear lately. I have to admit, I have been one to jump on the hype train for this new and shiny social platform. It has been both interesting and depressing for me to join chats in this app and listen to conversations with hundreds of others live.
Clubhouse is an interesting social app but it comes with a lot of problems. So many problems in fact that I decided to remove the app from my phone entirely.
Here are the main reasons I am no longer use Clubhouse and what I want them to do to fix it.
Rampant Misinformation and Hate Speech
I have inadvertently joined conversations that quickly became harbingers of hate and misinformation. I’ve heard people spouting off conspiracy theories as facts to hundreds listening without any check or balance. I am not the only one that has seen these kinds of chats. In fact it’s pretty common for anyone that has managed to get an invite into the app.
Diyora Shadijanova wrote about this problem at Vice recently saying,
[...] users are also warning that outlandish coronavirus conspiracy theories – everything from false rumours that the vaccine is made from fetal cells to 5G satellites controlling people through social distancing – are spreading fast on the app. Those who call out these false claims can even face harassment and abuse.
One thing about Shadijanova’s reporting that struck me was just how ephemeral and difficult it can be for people to report issues. It is nearly impossible to have hard evidence to point to when people are breaking Clubhouse’s rules.
Unlike Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, where users leave a digital footprint in the form of text, images or videos, the conversation is wiped once a room closes, making it almost impossible to hold people accountable for their words. Recording the chat rooms is against the guidelines and can get you kicked off the app.
Clubhouse has been saying how small of a team they have for a while now, but I call bullshit on this as a defense. The company is now at a valuation of $1 billion and raised millions in capital thanks to funding led by Andreessen Horowitz
Though the company did not respond to repeated requests for comment, a spokesperson issued a statement just last month that said: “The company unequivocally condemns all forms of racism, hate speech, and abuse, as noted in our Community Guidelines and Terms of Service, and has trust and safety procedures in place to investigate and address any violation of these rules.”
Content moderation has been something that I personally have been thinking about a lot lately. This comes mainly from articles and podcasts I have been listening to like the aforementioned at Vice, Zoe Schiffer’s article about Clubhouse from The Verge, and a conversation Alex Kantrowitz had with Glenn Greenwald on the Big Technology Podcast.
As for where I stand, I think that Clubhouse needs to directly address the misinformation happening on their platform. It isn’t going away anytime soon, and they need to get ahead of it. They can’t just point to a Terms and Conditions page that very few will take the time to read. Additionally, there needs to be a much more robust system for people to report Clubhouse chats.
Privacy? What’s That?
China has also been a talking point for Clubhouse lately after a recent report claiming Clubhouse is using Chinese services called Agora. The big problem is that according to Stanford Internet Observatory (SIO) Clubhouse isn’t doing a great job securing their information from Agora. Kim Lyons from The Verge reports,
The SIO further discovered that users’ unique Clubhouse ID numbers —not usernames— and chatroom IDs are transmitted in plaintext, which would likely give Agora access to raw Clubhouse audio. So anyone observing internet traffic could match the IDs on shared chatrooms to see who’s talking to each other, the SIO tweeted, noting “For mainland Chinese users, this is troubling.”
In what is going to be a common phrase from Clubhouse here, they are working on fixing the issue.
The company told SIO that it was going to roll out changes “to add additional encryption and blocks to prevent Clubhouse clients from ever transmitting pings to Chinese servers” and said it would hire an external security firm to review and validate the updates.
Access to Contacts
One other big issue I have with Clubhouse occurred when I wanted to invite Twitter friends to the platform. Turns out the only way for you to invite others, or to be invited, to Clubhouse is through your phone number. From there Clubhouse asks for you to give them access to your Contacts to find others you may know on the platform.
Sara Morrison writing for Vox shared some gross practices Clubhouse has been implementing involving your phone number.
But what if you didn’t give Clubhouse access to your contacts, specifically because you didn’t want all or any of them to know you were there? I regret to inform you that Clubhouse has made it possible for them to know anyway, encourages them to follow you, and there isn’t much you can do about it. When I joined, I didn’t give Clubhouse access to my contacts; as has been my policy since childhood, only I may decide who enters my clubhouse. Nevertheless, a few minutes later, I had a bunch of followers from my contacts. Even worse: I got followers who weren’t in my contacts at all — but I was in theirs. It turns out that your privacy on Clubhouse depends not just on what you do but also on what those who have your information in their contacts do.
So if someone I don’t want to socialize with still has my number in their phone they can find me on Clubhouse and know when I am online.
Clubhouse has created the ability to block someone on the platform, but in my view the damage is already done.
Here is a probable hypothetical scenario for you. A former harasser saved your number and joined Clubhouse after you had joined. Now that person sees when you are on the platform. There is no way you can preemptively block this person because when you joined earlier, they weren’t on Clubhouse. Now, your harasser is on Clubhouse and your name and photo pops up for them. These harassers could potentially stalk you on Clubhouse just because they had your phone number saved. Don’t like it? Yeah, me neither.
This is something that is not only backwards in thinking but potentially damaging for someone with online harassers.
If Clubhouse wants to continue to be a safe space for people they need to start by giving users more control. They need to offer the ability for users to choose who sees their content and happenings on the app.
I Hope You Like Notifications
Finally, the thing that ruined any kind of enjoyment with Clubhouse is the constant barrage of notifications.
As you can see I was given not one, not two, but three different notifications about 3 live chats. These are for people I did not follow, had no interest in the topic, and it all came in a matter of minutes.
The only thing I can think of is they are testing open-rates with notifications. Even if they are incredible the amount of notifications people get is abhorrent.
After looking deeper into this I learned that you can increase and decease your notification frequency but this is at the “normal” level. This is what was shipped to all users by default.
Sure, I could change the frequency I get notifications but in what world is this an acceptable amount of notifications for someone?
Clubhouse’s notification system reminds me of a brat trying to get their parents attention. They keep going and going until the parent finally turns and gives them their undivided attention. I am not interested in giving an app the satisfaction of berating me into using their service.
Bye Bye Clubhouse
After reading more and more about Clubhouse and their practices I think it is time to say goodbye. The lack of attention to privacy and safety for its users, notifications galore, and harrassment issues have moved me away from the app. I have removed Clubhouse from my devices and have no plans to return to it. Sadly, Clubhouse has my information and others who have my number will see me in the app. The damage has been done in that regard.
This isn’t to say that I won’t be keeping my ear to the ground on whether they fix this problems. That said, I personally don’t want to support Clubhouse until they directly share their plans and actions going forward. I want to know how they plan to keep their data secure, their users safe, and offer a more user-first solution to finding people.
I absolutely love the idea of social live audio streaming. However, Clubhouse doesn’t seem to be the best option if you care about your privacy, your contacts, or your notifications.
I hope that a service similar to Clubhouse does show up that offers a better experience and is safer for users. Until then, I hope Clubhouse changes their stances on these issues and makes things better for those that are going to continue to use their service.
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