Clubhouse Is Suggesting Users Invite Their Drug Dealers and Therapists
The app pressures you to upload your phone’s contacts — and makes them visible in surprising ways
When you join the fast-growing, invite-only social media app Clubhouse — lucky you! — one of the first things the app will ask you to do is grant it access to your iPhone’s contacts. A finger icon points to the “OK” button, which is also in a bolder font and more enticing than the adjacent “Don’t Allow” option. You don’t have to do it, but if you don’t, you lose the ability to invite anyone else to Clubhouse.
Once you’ve agreed to upload your phone’s address book, Clubhouse uses it to recommend people to follow who are already on the app, which is common practice for social apps these days. But it soon becomes apparent that Clubhouse also takes it a few steps further, in ways that are both creative and a little creepy.
When I granted the app access to my contacts, within hours it was nudging me to invite my former pediatrician, barber, and a health worker who once cared for my dying father to join Clubhouse — and sending me push notifications every time someone from my contacts signed up so I could welcome them via private chat and “walk them in.”
Granting an app access to your contacts is ethically dicey, even if it’s an app you trust. If you’re like most people, the contacts in your phone include not just your real-life friends, but also old acquaintances, business associates, doctors, bosses, and people you once went on a bad date with. For journalists, they might also include confidential sources (although careful journalists will avoid this). When you upload those numbers, not only are you telling the app developer that you’re connected to those people, but you’re also telling it that those people are connected to you — which they might or might not have wanted the app to know. For example, say you have an ex or even a harasser you’ve tried to block from your life, but they still have your number in their phone; if they upload their contacts, Clubhouse will know you’re connected to them and make recommendations on that basis.
Some social networks even use this sort of info to start building secret dossiers on people who don’t use the app…