Clubhouse, the invite-only conversation app that has enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity during the pandemic, has gotten a privacy-friendly update. Following numerous complaints about the app’s aggressive push to access its users’ contacts, Clubhouse now lets users invite their friends without having to open up their address book.
The update follows multiple reports about privacy issues with the app, which was especially hungry for users’ contacts, forcing them to give the app access if they wanted to invite others. (Currently, people can only join the app if they have an invitation.) But when users granted that access, they were encouraged to invite more of their contacts, told how many of their contacts’ contacts were already on the app, told who in their address book was already signed up, and told when one of their contacts joined the app — all while encouraging them to start a private room to welcome them.
This could be a great feature for people who want to see which of their friends are on the platform and connect with them. And it’s a great feature for Clubhouse, which wants as many users as possible to spend as much time as possible on the app.
But it wasn’t so great for users who, minutes after joining, were followed by people they didn’t want to have any contact with at all — an abusive ex, or a creepy guy they met in a bar, or even the bar itself — who were alerted to their presence on the platform through Clubhouse’s aggressive push to connect its users to each other. This was also true for people who hadn’t even uploaded their own contacts. As long as the user was in someone else’s contacts, that person would be alerted as soon as the user joined the app.
The update, released March 12, solves some of those privacy issues, but not all of them. You can now invite your friends without giving the app access to and trusting it with your contacts, assuming your friends have an iPhone (Clubhouse is still iOS only). But if someone else uploaded their contacts and your phone number is in them, they’ll still get that alert that you joined the app whether you upload your contacts or not. There’s no way to preemptively block a user in the onboarding process to prevent this, and blocking someone on Clubhouse doesn’t stop them from seeing your profile anyway.
Clubhouse didn’t immediately comment when asked why it made the change.
So, if there’s someone out there who has your contact information and who you don’t want to be notified of your presence on the app, Clubhouse is still a club you don’t want to join.
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