The app, which has gained global popularity in recent months, is starting to raise legal questions in Germany about privacy, misinformation and harassment.
This social network was developed less than a year ago in California, USA by Silicon Valley businessman Paul Davison and former Google employee Rohan Seth, and this social network is legally governed by the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which is not applicable in Europe.
“The rights and freedoms set forth in these provisions do not matter because the California Consumer Privacy Protection Act aims to protect California residents only,” explains Johannes Caspar, Hamburg Commissioner for Data Security and Freedom of Information.
This Commissioner coordinated with other German supervisory authorities and sent a catalog of questions to the operators of this app to verify compliance with the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which stipulates fines of up to € 20 million for violations.
Clubhouse is a combination of a virtual conference and an interactive podcast in which users can create discussion rooms – in principle on any topic – by voice and with up to 5,000 people in real time.
The popular German-speaking hall, for example, is “Mittag im Regierungsviertel” (lunchtime in the government district), where a group of speakers, including prominent German parliamentarians and journalists, discuss a political issue today, such as the right to work from home, while sharing What they ate for lunch.
The social network currently limits the number of users through two mechanisms: it is only available for Apple devices and also uses the “invite principle”, that is, those who have been invited by an existing user can get a vote.
Both factors mean that it is used primarily by celebrities, politicians, and prominent figures in the media such as Minister for Digital Affairs, Bavarian Social Christian Dorothy Barr; Christian Lindner, President of the Free Democratic Party; Television presenter Denga Oul Hayali or Friday for the Future activist Louisa Newpower.
The number of users in the app, which was launched in early 2020, increased from 1,500 in May to nearly two million users worldwide and it was the most downloaded iPhone app in Germany in the last week of January.
However, success came to him in Germany that month alone, when tech experts Philip Klöckner and Philip Gluckler began discussing Clubhouse with fans of the “Doppelgänger” podcast and created a Telegram group for people to share their invitations.
“We are assuming that over 50,000 users used this funnel to access the Clubhouse app,” Gloeckler says.
Privacy and data transfer
As the first American social media company to open in years, Clubhouse has begun to experiment with giants like Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook: Legal woes follow viral growth.
To invite a third party, the user must allow the application to access his contact book and this information is sent to Clubhouse to create “shadow profiles”, that is, to store information about interested parties that have not even registered in the application, such as explained on its website Reuschlaw Legal Consulting (Berlin).
In 2016, the Federal Supreme Court of Germany has already ruled against the Friend Finder tool on Facebook, setting a precedent preventing social media platforms from requiring users to upload their address books.
“It is irresponsible for users to share their contacts only to receive new invitations. I hope that European data protection agencies will pursue and fine the application,” says Marcus Bekidal, founder of the German digital freedom blog Netzpolitik.
“It is possible to impose heavy fines on the operator, but the GDPR does not expect the application to be banned or canceled in the event of a breach of data protection,” confirms the Cologne-based media lawyer Christian Solmicky.
Harassment and recording conversations
The club’s growth has been accompanied by criticism that women and people of color are frequent targets of abuse and that discussions it hosts on anti-Semitism, homophobia, racism and misogyny are increasing.
“The app temporarily records conversations to discover violations of our Community Guidelines. Clubhouse app operators can invoke the protection of“ legitimate interests ”under the GDPR,” explains Solmicky, who considers this fact also to harm users’ privacy.