Many of us have searched for fun and creative ways to stay connected with others while staying safe at home. The Houseparty app has risen in popularity as it allows users to video chat while playing interactive games together. However, recently the Houseparty app has faced a backlash against data privacy concerns and doubts about an unproven, potential privacy breach.
- In this article, we aim to answer the following question: is Houseparty safe?
- Many people are using the Houseparty app to connect and game with friends while social distancing.
- This rise in popularity has lead to data privacy concerns, and rumors of a privacy breach.
- Houseparty claims there was no breach. Breach or no breach, there are still a few easy steps that you can take to protect your data and your personal privacy while using the Houseparty app.
Reading time: 7 – 10 minutes
What is Houseparty?
Put simply, the Houseparty app allows for group video chats with the option of playing games together. Unlike other video chatting apps, you don’t need to call others to join you in the video chat. Instead you have a ‘room’. When you open up the Houseparty app, your friends are alerted that you are “in the house” so that they can come and join you in your room. Users can open, leave and join rooms as often as they wish; but, users can also lock their room once all the desired guests have entered so that no new guests may join.
Is Houseparty safe?
Recently, Houseparty has had to defend itself against allegations of a supposed privacy breach. According to TechCrunch, the reports of a breach claimed that hackers had compromised data collected from Houseparty in order to access accounts from users on other apps like Spotify or Netflix. ABC News reported that while former Houseparty app users began deleting the app in droves due to the privacy breach concerns, Houseparty released a statement refuting the privacy breach and offering $1,000,000 to anyone who can prove that the rumors were part of a smear campaign against Houseparty. Right now, it appears there are no reports with conclusive evidence of a hack.
Be that as it may, there are still data tracking concerns that should be addressed, regardless of the privacy breach rumors. In its recent privacy review of Houseparty, the app Lockdown has given the app a C+ in regards to the data tracking and handling. Basically, the Lockdown app can be used to record and block data tracking on other apps. When Lockdown reviewed Houseparty, they found “224 tracking attempts to six third parties in our five minutes of using Houseparty”. Furthermore, additional actions on the app such as connecting and interacting with friends created new data tracking attempts during their review. Because Lockdown does not believe it is clear which data are being given to third parties and how this data will be processed, they have given Houseparty a grade that is passing but not exemplary.
So, is Houseparty safe?
Currently, there is no clear consensus on this issue. Therefore, at Spy-Fy we encourage you to take a privacy-aware approach to using the app so that you can continue to connect while social distancing. We have created a list of 5 easy steps you can take to protect your personal privacy while using the Houseparty app.
5 steps for staying safe on Houseparty
- Edit your permissions: you can choose whether or not Houseparty can access your contacts on your phone or via social media sites. In order to edit the permissions given to Houseparty you should: open the app, click on the smiling face 🙂 , click on the settings icon, and click on ‘Permissions’. Under ‘Permissions’ you can choose whether or not you would like the app to be connected to your contacts on your phone and to Facebook. You can also change the settings for accessing your camera and mic and change the notifications settings (the notifications that you receive when friends are in the house).
- Use Private Mode: Houseparty has a private mode that can be enabled. According to the Houseparty app, in private mode, “every room you’re in will be locked. Even when you’re alone”. To enable this feature: open the app, click on the smiling face 🙂 , click on the settings icon, click on ‘Private Mode’ and select ‘Enable Private Mode’.
- Change your notifications settings: you can also manage your notifications settings so that not all of your contacts will know when you are using the app. For some situations, this may be a feature that could help protect your privacy if you do not want someone to know you are using the app. To edit this setting: open the app, click on the smiling face 🙂 , click on ‘Manage Notifications’. Without changing this setting, every time you open the app, your friends get an alert that you are in the house. Here, you can adjust the settings to decide if you would like others to be alerted when you are in the house and if you would like to receive a notification when others are in the house.
- Muting or Ghosting: we can also imagine scenarios in which it would be ideal if only certain individuals were notified or certain individuals were blocked from getting notifications of your being in the house. Especially when many people may use the app within many different social contexts – both professional and personal. You can adjust which of your friends on Houseparty can receive these notifications: click on the smiling face 🙂 , click on ‘Manage Notifications’, and scroll down to ‘Friends’. By the name of each friend there is a ghost emoji and a house emoji. By changing the ghost setting, you can keep that specific friend from receiving your ‘in the house’ notifications. By changing the house setting, you stop receiving ‘in the house’ notifications from that specific friend.
- Edit your profile: to limit the information about yourself that is shared with others, we recommend using the app without connecting it to your social media (i.e. Facebook and Snapchat), without using an identifying email address or username, without a profile picture, and without listing your full name on your profile. To edit your profile: click on the smiling face 🙂 , click on the settings icon, and click on ‘Edit Profile’. Here you can make these small changes to increase the privacy of your account. With making these changes to your profile, you could still connect with your friends (after all this is the whole point of the app!), but do so in a manner that is more privacy-aware. Be mindful of the username you pick, as your friends can all see this (here’s looking at all of you with sensual usernames that you might not want your co-workers to see).
- Lock the room: One easy way to protect uninvited guests from crashing your party is by locking the room. This is really easy, just click on the lock icon while you are in Houseparty!
- Sneak into the house: this is an option for the app on the iPhone. To enter the app without alerting your friends, you can hold down the app for a few seconds, then the option pops up to ‘Sneak into the house’.
*Bonus tip for the extra privacy-conscious individual: if you are curious about how your data is being handled, you can also contact Houseparty: firstname.lastname@example.org with your privacy questions.
At Spy-Fy, we value your digital privacy. That’s why we make premium privacy gadgets to help you stay protected! Be the agent of your own privacy.