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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

What is ‘exclusive’ new social media app Clubhouse and is it safe?


The latest social media app Clubhouse has seen a meteoric rise across the Middle East, and especially here in the GCC region.

Clubhouse is a voice-based social media app that’s quickly rising in popularity. The app provides a fresh take on chat rooms and podcasts – merging the two together to provide  users with a new communication experience and yet another social media channel. 

The app is valued at $1 billion and received approval after it holding talks hosted by major global celebrities, including Elon Musk, Drake and Oprah. Unlike other social media apps, Clubhouse is less focused on talking with your current friends but instead puts emphasis on expanding your network by talking to new and influential people.

An exclusive club

However, it’s not easy to join the hot new app. In fact, Clubhouse incorporates several layers of exclusivity. Firstly, it’s only available on iPhones, leaving Android users out in the dark, though a recent blog post on the company’s website suggested it has started working on the Android app. Secondly, you can’t just join the app by downloading it – you need an invitation from someone already using the application. The exclusivity of Clubhouse makes it appealing as it’s marketed as a sort of ‘cool club’ that’s hard to get into.

Paul Davison, cofounder of Clubhouse. Image by JD Lasica

Users aren’t given unlimited invites to let their friends join either. They get roughly two invites that can bed use to add contacts. So just because one of your friends has it doesn’t mean you will too.

How do I get an invite?

There aren’t any workarounds to get an invitation – you need someone to invite you in. Since people have limited invitations, they may be hesitant to give them out! Joining the waiting list may give your contacts the option to let you in for free though, but that doesn’t seem to be guaranteed.

Read also: Qatar’s major banks set for wearable payment technology

In fact, getting a ticket into Clubhouse has gotten so exclusive that there are now websites that sell invites for about $30! If you’re looking for an invite, buying one may be your way in, but that might be against the app’s terms of service. 

Clubhouse’s invite-only system builds hype around the app

This, however, hasn’t stopped people from trying to make Clubhouse more wildly available. Just a few weeks ago, an unknown user was able to stream multiple rooms on Clubhouse through their own website for everyone to access. Their account was permanently banned to block the streams, which raised many privacy concerns.

Are my recordings private?

Since the user was able to stream audio recordings, it exposed the fact that people can export and save recordings from rooms in the app. Users are given the impression that recordings are private and temporary, but the reality is that this doesn’t seem to be the case.

Alex Stamos, director of Stanford Internet Observatory, concluded that “Clubhouse cannot provide any privacy promises for conversations held anywhere around the world.”

These privacy concerns are amplified by the fact that Clubhouse data is stored on Agora, a Chinese company. This puts doubts on the privacy of users’ data as Chinese law requires tech companies to share data with the Chinese government whenever they’re requested to do so. For what it’s worth, Agora said that it doesn’t store personally identifiable information from Clubhouse or any of its other clients. The conclusion though is to assume that what you say on Clubhouse is not necessarily private.

What’s in it for me?

With that being said, there’s a lot of value for users of Clubhouse. The app offers a window to intimate conversations with influential individuals. It’s rare to get the chance to hear directly from the people behind some of the world’s largest businesses. Additionally, Clubhouse has a lot of rooms that are fun to take part in. The app’s interface makes it extremely easy to join rooms and it’s a pleasure to use. 

When you sign up to Clubhouse, you’re asked to select topics of interest. This helps the app suggest people or clubs that could be relevant to you. You can narrow your search down with very specific filters so that you can find a club that’s most relevant to you.

The app has an upcoming section that lets you tune into talks that are scheduled in the future. This is handy as it allows users to listen to their favourite sessions without missing them – and even more useful considering you can’t replay recordings in the future, so you need to tune-in live to listen.

Read also: WhatsApp’s recent privacy changes

Similar to Tiktok, Clubhouse relies heavily on a recommendation algorithm to provide users with relevant content. The app suggests people, clubs and upcoming talks based on that data. Since Clubhouse rooms require more commitment than most social networks, it makes sense to rely on recommendations so that users don’t tune out after one irrelevant session.

Clubhouse is a lot of fun to use – assuming you got an invitation to do so! The app is available for free on the App Store. 

Have you gotten an invitation to Clubhouse? What rooms did you enjoy using? Let us know in the comments.

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