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After its rollout to Android in May, Clubhouse is now being used by over 2.6 million people in India. The audio-only social networking app is popular for its drop-in and drop-out format. It allows anyone to host and participate in conversations, which does not make the platform too intrusive, and lets users be a part of conversations happening worldwide. However, that very nature of the app is now raising privacy concerns.

Indian digital rights advocacy group, the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), says that Clubhouse needs to “streamline [its] data protection and data processing practices and ensures the digital security of its users.” It further adds that Clubhouse must “respect privacy, provide redressal against hate speech, and ensure due process and transparency when it censors content.”

IFF says that the app does not provide sufficient safeguards against hate speech, disinformation, discrimination, and security threats in India. “Clubhouse has come up with a privacy policy that delineates the gamut of information that they collect, use, and share. However, concerns with its ability to secure users’ data remain as recent reports indicate that scraped data of more than 1.3 million Clubhouse users was posted on a popular hacker forum.”

The digital rights advocacy group also found that Clubhouse collects a wide array of information, including users’ “name, email address, contact details, phone number, IP address, device name, operating system, the people you interact with and the time, frequency and duration of your use.”

“Based on the specific authorization, Clubhouse also collects phone numbers in your contact list even if those individuals are not on the platform. This undermines the right to informational privacy of those persons whose phone numbers get exposed to Clubhouse without their knowledge, let alone consent,” it adds.

IFF says such “excessive collection of data” is against the principle of data minimization, which essentially requires apps only to collect information necessary to provide their services.

Meanwhile, there are also reports that government law enforcement agencies like the Intelligence and Narcotics Bureaus have been granted permission to monitor conversations on Clubhouse. IFF has filed an RTI with the Home Ministry to find out if the reports are true.

“It shares user data with vendors and service providers, business transferees as well as law enforcement agencies, if the need arises. Here again, the scope of consent and clarity on what data is being shared and for how long is lacking.”

The digital rights advocacy group says that even though Clubhouse doesn’t sell information yet, there is no framework to prevent monetizing data in the future.

IFF demands that Clubhouse should provide a human rights policy. “The policy should provide for an independent civil rights audit similar to the one Facebook volunteered for in the United States of America. The periodic audit will examine Clubhouse’s efforts to respect and defend human rights on its platform, evaluate how Clubhouse complies with its community guidelines and privacy policy, and provide its recommendations,” it added.

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