Security

Experts caution privacy, security issues over popular app Clubhouse


Taipei, Feb. 17 (CNA) People planning to use social media app Clubhouse, the No. 1 downloaded app in Taiwan at the end of January, should take precautionary measures given the lack of proper protection currently provided by the app, experts at accounting firm KPMG Taiwan said in a statement Wednesday.

The app, owned by U.S. firm Alpha Exploration Co., is currently only available to users of Apple Inc’s iOS devices. It enables users to open online chat rooms and discuss issues of their choice or interest.

Jason Hsieh (謝昀澤), an associated director and deputy head of advisory at KPMG Taiwan, said the app created issues for people concerned about their online footprint.

The use of any social media service comes with privacy and security risks, said Hsieh, but Clubhouse’s requirement that users upload the contacts on their devices and make public various information can easily be used to identify a user’s personal network.

The information required to be made public by the app includes which users of the app they follow, who introduced them to the invitation-only app, other Clubhouse users that follow them, and there is no option to not reveal these details.

It takes about five minutes for someone to figure out a Clubhouse user’s profession, interests, religion, politics, race and friends by looking at the user’s profile without them knowing, Hsieh said.

Another potential risk is that a user’s data may still be retained even if the account is deleted, which could be dangerous in the event of a data breach, Hsieh said.

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Meanwhile, Kelvin Chung (鍾典晏), a lawyer working at KPMG Taiwan, pointed out that the privacy policy published by Clubhouse indicates the social media app can share user data with third parties without notifying the user, but does not specify what kind of information will be shared.

For people to better protect themselves when using Clubhouse, KPMG Taiwan manager Tiger Lin (林軒宇) suggested users should block the app’s access to their contacts through settings on their iOS devices.

Since there are several accounts registered under the name of celebrities or online influencers, which cannot be verified, people should be more cautious when they choose to follow such accounts.

People should also be careful about what they discuss in online chat rooms, and pay attention to possible online scams or inappropriate targeted marketing, he added.

If people decide to delete their Clubhouse account, Lin said, they should also send an email to the app’s customer service office to ask for their personal data to be deleted.

The sudden popularity of the app has led to concerns over its privacy policy, which have been raised by media outlets such as Forbes and Nikkei Asia, as well as Stanford University’s Internet Observatory.

The Stanford Internet Observatory said in a report published on Feb. 12 that it “has discovered other security flaws that we have privately disclosed to Clubhouse and will publicly disclose when they are fixed or after a set deadline.”

The report also includes a statement from Clubhouse, which said it “is deeply committed to data protection and user privacy” and “welcome collaboration with the security and privacy community as we continue to grow.”



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