Houseparty’s Terms of Service and Privacy Policy Analyzed

Fahad DiwanFahad Diwan

Mar 28 · 6 min read

My wife and I are similar in many ways but we’re very different in others. I care deeply about my privacy and border on being a recluse. She, on the other hand, is a public figure and lives her life through social media. I don’t have an Instagram account. She is an instagram account.

She often experiments with new social media platforms. A platform that her and all the other ‘cool’ kids are on now is Houseparty. Houseparty is a group video chat app that lets participants play games, like Heads Up or Trivia, with one another. It’s great for being quarantined at home #coronavirus.
Houseparty’s App
Like other social media apps, privacy is a concern. And, most people (including lawyers), don’t bother reading the Terms of Service or Privacy Policy for every website or app they use. In fact, researchers from Carnegie Mellon found that it would take a person 244 hours each year if they were to “read the online privacy policies word-for-word each time they visited a new site.”That comes out to roughly 40 minutes per day.
My sentiments exactly, Michelle! Well, I thought I’d save you some time. I analyzed Houseparty’s Terms of Service and Privacy Policy for you. Below, I reproduce the passages that I thought were the most important and I comment on them. So now you only have to spend another 23 hours and 50 minutes reading privacy policies this year…
  1. Houseparty will monitor and analyze you before, during, and after using their services

What you’re agreeing to:

By agreeing to their Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, you are allowing Houseparty to surveil and analyze your activity before, during, and after using their app:
We may collect certain information automatically through our Services or other methods of web analysis, such as your Internet protocol (IP) address, cookie identifiers, mobile carrier, mobile advertising identifiers, MAC address, IMEI, and other device identifiers that are automatically assigned to your computer or device when you access the Internet, browser type and language, geo-location information, hardware type, operating system, Internet service provider, pages that you visit before and after using the Services, the date and time of your visit, the amount of time you spend on each page, information about the links you click and pages you view within the Services, and other actions taken through use of the Services such as preferences [emphasis added].
You also consent to Houseparty placing technologies — like cookies — on your device which record and automatically collect information about you, like your location and the people who you video chat with on their app:

We, as well as Third Parties that provide content, advertising, or other functionality on our Services, may use cookies, pixel tags, local storage, log data and other technologies (“Technologies”) to automatically collect information through the Services.We use Technologies that are essentially small data files placed on your computer, tablet, mobile phone, or other devices (referred to collectively as a “device”) that allow us to record certain pieces of information whenever you visit or interact with our Services, and to recognize you across devices…

Our servers automatically record information (“Log Data”) created by your use of the Services. Log Data may include information such as your IP address, browser type, operating system, location, your mobile carrier, device and application IDs, the Users with whom you video chat, access date and time spent on features of the Services and other statistics and Cookie information…[emphasis added].

Why you should care:

While you’re using Houseparty’s app, you’re being surveilled and analyzed. They are scrutinizing every movement of your fingers and eyes. What grabs your attention and makes your pupils dilate? What makes you tick and click? What makes you happy, sad, angry or mad? Houseparty and their partners then use this information to create highly persuasive advertisements and messages that give you an almost irresistible urge to act upon them.

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Privacy Policy

2. This includes analyzing your video chat and text message communications as well as any sensitive, confidential, or proprietary information you share on their platform

By using Houseparty’s app, you give them a license to use the content of your communications for any purpose, including making new products or services or sending you advertisements.

You agree that [Houseparty] is free to use the content of any communications ubmitted [sic] by you via the Services, including any ideas, inventions, concepts, techniques, or know-how disclosed therein, for any purpose including developing, manufacturing, and/or marketing goods or Services…

By submitting, posting or displaying User Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).

Why you should care

Any and all communications you have with your friends on their platform will be analyzed to learn what you and your friends care about. As mentioned above, they can use these communications — including any sensitive, personal information you share — to send highly persuasive messages and market you goods or services.

So you know how you told your buddy you feel fat after downing a pint of Ben & Jerry’s while watching Love is Blind? Well, don’t be surprised if you start seeing this type of advertisement after:

Houseparty does state that “the content of your video chat sessions will only be used by [them] for the purpose of providing you the Services and for no other purpose.”

But, the Terms of Service don’t elaborate on what “the purpose of providing you the Services” means nor do they limit it to simply providing you with the best possible video chat or gaming experience. Accordingly, “the purpose of providing you the Services” could include actions Houseparty takes to make money — like using your content to generate more relevant advertisements or selling it to third parties — because they need to generate revenue to be able to provide you with their app.

3. You agree to be raw material for Houseparty’s future products and services

What you’re agreeing to:

Houseparty’s app takes in your personal and other information, anonymizes and aggregates it, and then uses it to develop new products and services:

“We may use Personal Information and other information about you to create anonymized and aggregated information…Anonymized and aggregated information is used for a variety of functions, including the measurement of visitors’ interest in and use of various portions or features of the Services. Anonymized or aggregated information is not Personal Information, and we may use such information in a number of ways, including research, internal analysis, analytics, and any other legally permissible purposes…

We may use Personal Information to create non-identifiable information that we may use alone or in the aggregate with information obtained from other sources, in order to help us to optimally deliver our existing products and Services or develop new products and Services.

Why you should care:

Houseparty analyzes your information — your behaviour, your habits, your human experience — to create their own products and services. You are the raw material for their production. You should care because you are being commoditized. This is Surveillance Capitalism in action.

Final Words

I’m not saying don’t use Houseparty. The app is fun, cool, and a great way to connect with your friends while you’re quarantined. But, know what you’re signing up for.

Also, know that you’re not powerless. If you think things should change, write to your local representative and tell them that your privacy matters to you. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada is pretty great and up to speed. They are, however, not provided with very many resources. If we start telling our politicians that we care about our privacy, this will change.
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