Is Phone Number Safe?

A cellphone screen, just the top half, before the clubhouse audio chat app opens.
Getting signed up means giving out a phone number…

Dear Ms. Smartphone: Is my phone number safe anymore? The other day I downloaded a new social media app called Clubhouse, because friends recommended it. Before it would open, the app required me to enter a phone number so it could send a verification code. It was a total accident but I got distracted and entered my spouse’s phone number by mistake. I think she walked in the room, and I wasn’t paying attention. Anyway, a few hours later her phone started getting spam calls. She thinks that there is a connection between the app and these calls.  Can you set my mind at ease !? Tristan, Petaluma

Dear Tristan: Two-step verification can be a good thing, particularly when you want to check your home security camera, look at your bank account online, or release funds, say for Venmo or Paypal. But, two step verification could be horrific if we are required to set up social media accounts with it, and these social companies do not have our solid trust.

We don’t know for sure that the Clubhouse app released or sold your spouse’s number. Incidentally, the full company name is AlphaExploration Co and as of February 2021, the audio chat program is only available on iPhone and as a beta test. I  took a look at their long privacy policy (never as much fun to read as the DearSmartphone column) and it was not so transparent, at least to a non-lawyer. 

BOring Through Legalize

Their privacy policy states that the Clubhouse app will collect a phone number, an email address, etc. and keep it all  secure. It then goes on to say it can  collect information about the people, accounts, and groups you are connected to…and they can… use that information to infer your preferences for content and features . Clubhouse won’t sell your personal data…. but can share it with vendors and service providers they work with (including advertising and CRM services). You get the drift, I hope.

That said, it seems unlikely that the spammy phone calls would begin right after your two-step authentication. It might have a been a total coincidence. That particular day, a telemarketing center, probably offshore, was spamming live accounts in a bank of stored phone exchanges. And, lots of retailers and organizations release our phone number that end up in someone else’s hands. 

BOring Through Settings

I wanted to share two screen shots from the Clubhouse app. You will find them on your iPhone by  going to SETTINGS>Clubhouse. Make sure to scroll way down until you see the logo for the Apple Store and beyond it there is an alphabetical listing of each app that is active on your phone. 

When you first download Clubhouse, each of these permissions will automatically be turned on. Essentially, the app gathers data over time about your usage to ‘personalize’ your content or ad feed. For privacy sake, turn them off. To my surprise ‘background app refresh’ is not something you want to leave on either, even on a trusty iPhone. Keep it off,  particularly for a brand new social media app says MacObserver. The refresh can send out a digital footprint with your phone number, location, email address, and more.   

It’s STILL Boring AND It’s Deep!

Hopefully your spouse will forgive you for signing up for Clubhouse with your number, and you will take the responsible step of deleting this phone number from its profile. Next time you need to provide a verification code to a third party you don’t know, consider having a simple, second phone that can send and receive SMS. Or, you can search online for web sites that promise you can get a two step verification code without having to hand over your phone.   But truly, we don’t know if they are safe either.

In closing, I just want to indulge you with one of my favorite cinema scenes- the name of the movie escapes me. In the denouement, the bad guys kidnap the wealthy businessman and hold him hostage. But it’s his smartphone they are after, not him. Once they possess his phone, they can impersonate his authority to openly send and receive the codes. The codes  transfer money and open safes. Enjoy the Clubhouse app but remember to think twice about what you talk and share. 

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