Clubhouse is reviewing data protection practices after concerns over security flaws

WION Web Team
Shanghai, China Published: Feb 13, 2021, 04:25 PM(IST)

The social audio app Clubhouse is pictured near a star on the Chinese flag in this illustration Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

Launched less than a year ago, Clubhouse, which recently encountered a censorship hiccup in China, is looking to establish itself as the standard-bearer for digital audio

US audio app Clubhouse said on Saturday that it is reviewing its data protection practices after a report by the Stanford Internet Observatory said it contained security flaws that left users' data vulnerable to access by the Chinese government.

Clubhouse, the invitation-only audio chat app, exploded in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic when people could not get together in person, but now the once niche platform has far higher goals.

Launched less than a year ago, Clubhouse, which recently encountered a censorship hiccup in China, is looking to establish itself as the standard-bearer for digital audio.

Also read: Chinese users flocking to US chat app Clubhouse to evade censors

Alongside casual conversations about travel and health, users frankly discussed Uighur concentration camps in Xinjiang, the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, and personal experiences of being interrogated by police. But their access to the app was blocked last week, triggering frustration and fears of government surveillance.

The app said in a response to the study, published by the research group at Stanford University, that while it had opted not to make the app available in China, some people had found a workaround to download the app which meant the conversations they were a part of could be transmitted via Chinese servers.

"With the help of researchers at the Stanford Internet Observatory, we have identified a few areas where we can further strengthen our data protection," the company said in a statement published by the research group on Friday.

"Over the next 72 hours, we are rolling out changes to add additional encryption and blocks to prevent Clubhouse clients from ever transmitting pings to Chinese servers. We also plan to engage an external data security firm to review and validate these changes."

Also read| Clubhouse: The invite-only chat app that Elon Musk uses

Launched in early 2020, the app saw global user numbers soar earlier this month after Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev held a surprise discussion on the platform.

The Stanford Internet Observatory said that it had confirmed that Chinese tech firm Agora Inc supplied back-end infrastructure to Clubhouse, and that Agora would likely have access to users' raw audio, potentially providing access to the Chinese government.

It also said it observed room metadata relayed to servers it believed were hosted in China and audio to servers managed by Chinese entities. It added, however, that it believed the Chinese government would not be able to access the data if the audio was stored in the United States.

Read in App