Trendy Clubhouse Audio Networking App Thrives in Germany | Germany | In-depth news and reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW

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Clubhouse is an exclusive audio communication app that has grown in popularity in recent months. In Germany, it became the most downloaded iPhone app this week.

“After many months of videoconferencing, there is obviously a need to chat with other people and not have to sit in front of a camera,” Markus Beckedahl, founder of the German Digital Freedom Blog. Netzpolitik, said DW.

Compared to other social media tools, Clubhouse usage remains relatively low. The invitation-only app is primarily used by celebrities, politicians, and prominent media personalities.

The Clubhouse presents itself as a “space for authentic conversation and expression”. Essentially, the app offers a live interactive podcasting experience. Users can create virtual “rooms” on a topic of their choice, which anyone with an account can then join.

Listeners can virtually raise their hands to participate, but the host or hosts decide who is allowed to speak. Hundreds if not thousands of people connect to discussions on popular topics or with famous hosts, but there is no function to chat, “like” or comment on the discussions.

Examples of rooms range from musicians sharing tips to group meditation sessions.

A popular German-speaking hall is “Mittag im Regierungsviertel” – “Lunchtime in the government quarter”. A group of speakers, including prominent German parliamentarians and journalists, discuss a political issue of the day – like the right to work from home – while sharing what they ate for lunch.

Speakers move in and out based on other engagements, and the moderator invites other users to ask questions. The effect is decidedly friendly.

Why is he now succeeding in Germany?

The range of topics for cats is huge. “I found it interesting earlier to participate in a discussion on Black Talks Germany,” Green Party politician Aminata Touré wrote on Twitter of her participation in a racism-focused chat in the country.

Clubhouse sells itself on its intimate and unique nature. In Germany, politicians like Christian Lindner, leader of the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), were the first to get started. Without the pressure of video, politicians and social media influencers can invite attendees to an exclusive club: they can speak directly to people without a middleman, while the media itself retains a sense of elitism.

If Twitter is word-based and Instagram is pictures, Clubhouse is audio-based.

Forms of audio media are enjoying a vogue that few who herald the death of radio would have predicted decades ago, especially among millennials. Podcasts are an ever-evolving medium, having doubled in popularity in the United States over the past decade. And the voice memo feature of a number of apps, first introduced by WhatsApp in 2013, has more recently been adopted by Facebook, Instagram, and Telegram in recognition that more and more people want to communicate through audio message.

But the app could still turn out to be a fad: “I don’t know if anyone in Germany will be talking about this app again next week or next month, or if the cool features will just be copied by social networks already. established like Twitter or Facebook and then used there, ”said media analyst Beckedahl.

The FOMO effect

“One popular aspect is that you can listen to all kinds of people talking, including celebrities,” Cologne-based media lawyer Christian Solmecke told DW. “But the big selling point is the ‘artificial scarcity’ which is popular among marketers and advertisers because you can actually only be part of the app community if you’ve been invited.”

Launched for American consumers in April 2020, the developers of Clubhouse in Silicon Valley claim that the app is still in “private beta” mode: to prevent the system from being overwhelmed, they have limited the number of users.

At the end of December 2020, there were 600,000 users worldwide. Each account holder can invite two people to join the application with their mobile phone numbers. And Clubhouse is only available on Apple iOS, so Android users are also banned for now. Some people are desperate to participate: Invitations have been advertised on eBay for over $ 100 (€ 82).

In this way, explains Solmecke, the app “plays with the FOMO (fear of running out) of consumers”. Markus Beckedahl says: “Lots of celebrities use the app, which is why a hype ensues as people are afraid of missing out on something innovative.

But many halls are not just the playgrounds of the rich and famous. The app has also found a large market with entrepreneurs and influencers. Venues with names like “Daily Habits of High Performers” and “MILLION DOLLAR SOCIAL MEDIA ENGAGEMENT” attract hundreds of listeners eager for tips and tricks from experts in the field. In a particularly meta example of this trend, it’s even possible to tap into rooms that offer advice on “becoming a master clubhouse moderator.”

Disadvantages to open the discussion

The radically free character of the chambers, although apparently egalitarian, has already sparked controversy. Rooms described as “safe spaces” for a particular gender or ethnic group were open to anyone with an account, although the moderator could kick out people causing trouble and report them.

New York Times journalist Taylor Lorenz has written extensively on how certain rooms in the Clubhouse are strongholds of misogyny, anti-Semitism and racism. In the absence of records from the chambers, independent observers have little means to investigate these accusations.

Clubhouse has also been accused online of lacking accountability. All conversations in the room take place live and nothing is permanently recorded. The Clubhouse website states that “temporary recordings are made while the room is live” and if a “breach of trust and security” is reported by a participant during the chat, the audio is retained. . But if someone wants to keep a recording of a play to themselves, or report an incident of hate speech or abuse afterwards, they can’t.

The permanence of Tweets or Facebook posts has damaged many professional images. But on Clubhouse, once the talks are over, they disappear into the ether.

Data privacy can “violate European law”

Concerns have also been expressed about how the app accesses user data.

“The service has apparently grown too quickly and does not take into account the requirements of the GDPR,” Hamburg’s Data Security and Freedom of Information Commissioner Johannes Caspar told DW. The General Data Protection Act (GDPR) is an EU regulation that aims to give individuals more rights over how businesses use their data.

“The privacy policy takes into account the rights of data subjects under the California Privacy Act, but not under the GDPR, which the service must comply with (in Germany),” Caspar added.

The Clubhouse application requires users to allow access to their contact list and does not guarantee the confidentiality of this data.

“It is not at all clear what happens to user data (eg contact lists) and whether it is sold to third parties,” said Marcus Beckedahl. “The vague terms and conditions allow it.”

Ephemeral technology

Nonetheless, the app has emphasized freedom of speech and its fleeting nature to its advantage. If a large number of users wish to network, they may be happy to hand over their data.

Unlike Twitter, where thousands of faceless bots clog the system, Clubhouse requires members to use their real names.

But with thousands more users signing up every week, the elitist nature of the app will change. “The founders of the app have already announced that it will soon be possible to register without an invitation,” said media lawyer Solmecke. “Then, of course, the app could lose its appeal.”


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