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17 Mar, 2021 12:37

French privacy watchdog probes Clubhouse over possible breach of EU rules

French privacy watchdog probes Clubhouse over possible breach of EU rules

The French privacy watchdog is investigating the parent company of the US-based voice chat app Clubhouse to determine if it breached EU data protection regulations when servicing users based in Europe.

The French National Commission on Informatics and Liberty (CNIL) has launched an investigation into Alpha Exploration Co., the developer of the app, the watchdog announced on Wednesday. It cited complaints about possible breaches of privacy on the platform.

The regulator said it contacted the company last week to verify it had no offices in EU nations. Under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), EU’s data protection law, any national government is allowed to probe and, if necessary, take punitive action if violations are discovered, CNIL said.

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The watchdog’s statement also cited a French-language online petition accusing Clubhouse of harvesting user contacts – an option the producer says helps people find their acquaintances on the platform. The petition says it is not that different from how tech giants such as Facebook in the past deceived and abused users to access their private data, and calls for government intervention. It had more than 12,000 signatures at the time of writing.

Possible issues with Clubhouse were highlighted earlier this month by French MP Paula Forteza, who sent an open letter to CNIL outlining her concerns. Its alleged shortcomings in terms of user data protection are also subject of a complaint by the head of VZBV, Germany’s consumer rights watchdog.

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Clubhouse is an invite-only app popularized recently by celebrities such as Elon Musk and Bill Gates, that allows users to communicate in audio chats called “rooms”. Proponents hail it as a place where some of the most interesting and open discussions currently take place.

Criticism of Clubhouse is not restricted to privacy concerns, however. For example, last month, a New York Times story protested about the “unfettered conversations” happening on the platform, allegedly leading to harassment and the spread of misinformation.

The story was bylined by Taylor Lorenz, the same journalist who, days earlier, falsely accused tech entrepreneur Marc Andreessen of using a slur word in a discussion in a Clubhouse room. Last week, she made national headlines after her claim of being a victim of constant online harassment was blasted by Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

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