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French regulator opens privacy investigation into social media darling Clubhouse

For the second time in two months, Clubhouse has drawn the ire of Europe’s data regulators over concerns that the invite-only app may be breaking privacy rules.

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Social networking unicorn Clubhouse has again drawn the ire of European data regulators over concerns that the app may be breaking privacy rules.

France’s independent data privacy authority, CNIL, opened an investigation Wednesday into Clubhouse’s parent company, Alpha Exploration Co., to determine whether the app complies with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

In its announcement, CNIL said that it received a complaint about Clubhouse and a petition with over 10,000 signatures alerting it to possible privacy breaches. The regulator is working with its European counterparts to determine whether the company is in compliance.

Launched in March 2020, Clubhouse has exploded in popularity among VC firms and celebrities, and its exclusivity has appealed to the general public as well. The app provides invitation-only audio chat rooms on a variety of topics, such as tech, books and business. It was valued at a reported $1 billion in January following a $100 million round led by Andreessen Horowitz.

France’s investigation isn’t the first time US-based Clubhouse has found itself in Europe’s crosshairs over how it protects privacy. Last month, a German regulator requested information from Alpha Exploration as well; Hamburg’s state data watchdog voiced concerns that Clubhouse automatically reads users’ address books and stores the data in the US, and the information can then be used for advertising purposes. The regulator also called out the fact that the startup keeps recordings of all conversations in order to track abuses—without being transparent about what they consider to be abuse.

“Unfortunately, it happens again and again that providers from the USA push their way into the European market or are simply successful with their products and services without complying with the most fundamental data protection requirements of the European digital market,” Johannes Caspar, head of Hamburg’s data protection agency, said in a February statement. “It is important to point out quickly which rules apply on the playing field of Europe and to enforce them.”

Clubhouse did not respond to a request for comment.

Featured image by kolderal/Getty Images

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    Written by Leah Hodgson
    Leah Hodgson is a London-based senior reporter for PitchBook covering venture capital across Europe and the Middle East. Leah graduated from the University of Surrey with a BA in international politics with French. She has previously been a radio reporter in France. She later turned to financial journalism, covering the wealth management industry. She joined PitchBook in 2018.
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