The group video chat app Houseparty has spiked in popularity after millions of people around the world began practicing social isolation amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Houseparty touts a slew of unique, easy-to-use features that make group video calls more fun, but it also comes with a plethora of privacy concerns.
Digital Privacy Expert Ray Walsh told Digital Trends that Houseparty users need to be aware that the app collects a “worrying amount of personal information.” This includes geolocation data, which Houseparty can theoretically use to track down its users. Walsh says the service is particularly scary considering how much information the government could glean from the app if it wanted to.
“If the pandemic continues for any prolonged period, the chances that apps like this could be placed under surveillance [by the US government] to monitor how COVID-19 is spreading is a very real possibility,” Walsh said.
Gehan Gunasekara, an associate professor in commercial law at the University of Auckland, told Radio New Zealand that Houseparty is a privacy “trojan horse” that’s “able to basically track your every move.” By downloading and using the app, Gunasekara claims your allowing it to track your location, who you contact, how often you contact them, and more.
To further the app’s privacy suspicions, Twitter users have been claiming that since downloading Houseparty, their other social accounts and subscriptions like PayPal, Netflix, Instagram, Spotify, and even online-banking accounts have been compromised. Houseparty addressed the issue on Twitter, saying this is not true and that all accounts are safe.
It then went on to claim these accusations were the work of a smear campaign, and it is offering a whopping $1 million to whoever can prove it.
We are investigating indications that the recent hacking rumors were spread by a paid commercial smear campaign to harm Houseparty. We are offering a $1,000,000 bounty for the first individual to provide proof of such a campaign to firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Houseparty (@houseparty) March 31, 2020
On top of all that, Houseparty is owned and operated by Epic Games, which is already known for its poor privacy practices. Thankfully, users can easily prevent Houseparty from tracking them so much. The app collects an obscene amount of data by default, but users can still turn location tracking off and make all chat rooms private, effectively neutralizing the issue.
But if you are looking for a good group video chatting app while you are quarantined, and Houseparty’s lack of user privacy still concerns you, there are plenty of other options you can use. Some of which include Hangouts, Zoom, Skype, and more.