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It looks like we are entering into a whole new world of collecting our voice data now. The first wave of voice data collection included all the personal digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri, waiting patiently in the background to spring into action at the sound of a certain word. The new second wave of voice data collection includes social media platforms like Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces, both of which are looking to monetize voice data in one way or another.
Everyone, it seems, is interested in listening to our conversations and seeing what we have to say. We’ve become so used to it, in fact, that it doesn’t even really trigger any privacy alarm bells when we hear about social media platforms potentially collecting voice data. Imagine, by way of contrast, how you might have reacted a decade ago if someone told you that all of your phone conversations would be recorded from here on out, and that all conversations you had in your home would be passively monitored by a little device standing on your kitchen table.
Twitter and voice data collection
Of course, Twitter Spaces claims that they won’t be “recording” your conversations. They are just “storing” your conversation for a brief 30-day period. You know, just to make sure that you didn’t say anything that violated Twitter’s rules. If a violation is uncovered, then Twitter might hold onto a recording of your conversation for as long as 90 days. OK, fair enough, we all don’t want Twitter becoming a cesspool of obscenities, hate speech or bullying.
However, Twitter also reserves the right to make transcriptions of all conversations that are made on Twitter Spaces, and then enable those transcriptions to become available to hosts on the platform. As it stands now, Twitter will only provide transcriptions of what the host said online, and will not transcribe anyone else.
So you can see the direction Twitter is headed here – they clearly are trying to create an incentive for people to become voice creators. Once you have a transcription of what you said online, then you can package (or re-package) that content for further distribution online. You could, for example, tweet out that you just gave an overview of the stock market for your investors, and could link to your Twitter Spaces conversation. Sure, Twitter might have already removed your voice data from the web by that time, but you’d still have a transcript of everything you said.
Clubhouse and voice data collection
By contrast, Clubhouse seems to be taking much more of a “privacy-first” approach to voice data collection. Clubhouse says that it will automatically delete all conversations as soon as a room ends, unless there has been a violation reported during the course of the call. This seems to be much better for privacy. Presumably, if a conversation went horribly off the rails, and people started dropping racist or homophobic comments during a call, Clubhouse would be able to step in and investigate. But as long as a call is just a call, it would be deleted forever.
In many ways, Clubhouse’s approach is similar to the way Snapchat was when it first started out. Snapchat shook up the social media world by focusing on “ephemeral” conversations that disappeared as soon as a message was read. In a similar way, voice conversations will also be ephemeral on Clubhouse, disappearing into the ether as soon as they are over. And Clubhouse even goes one step further here, by banning all recording of other participants unless they have given consent. So, for example, you couldn’t lurk in the background, surreptitiously recording someone else’s conversation.
Based on the above, it’s not going too far to suggest that privacy policies could affect which social media voice platforms take off, and which ones don’t. Users who value privacy will flock towards privacy-first platforms like Clubhouse, while marketers and advertisers will probably flock towards Twitter Spaces. (After all, you can’t place ads next to ephemeral, disappearing content that doesn’t exist, right?) But what really matters here are all the creators and influencers who are now faced with a conundrum of their own. They might like the idea of Clubhouse, but how much time and effort are they going to place on creating content if they know that it has a very limited shelf life?