Houseparty, one of the video calling apps keeping people connected around the world during the coronavirus pandemic, has offered a $1 million reward to anyone who can prove it has been sabotaged.
Houseparty, owned by online gaming firm Epic Games, has offered up the huge bounty following an explosion of online rumors that downloading the app led to people’s accounts on other services such as Netflix (NFLX) and Spotify (SPOT) being hacked.
The app creators strenuously denied the claims and issued a statement on Twitter on Tuesday, telling followers they were investigating claims hacking rumors “were spread by a paid commercial smear campaign to harm Houseparty.”
An earlier tweet insisted that the claims were false.
“All Houseparty accounts are safe — the service is secure, has never been compromised, and doesn’t collect passwords for other sites,” it said.
What is Houseparty?
Creators describe the app as “the synchronous social platform that lets you connect face-to-face with the people you care about most.”
As countries around the world implement social distancing measures in a bid to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, apps such as Houseparty have become increasingly popular.
According to Apptopia, which tracks the performance of apps, Houseparty is currently the third most downloaded app on the iOS app store in the United States – behind Zoom and TikTok – and comes top in the United Kingdom.
Also available on Android, iPadOS (for iPad users) and macOS (for Mac users), the app allows partygoers not only to chat, but also to play games and quizzes.
Last year it was acquired by Epic Games, the creators of the phenomenally successful Fortnite.
How does the app work?
Although it has gained massive popularity in recent weeks, Houseparty is not new, having been set up in 2016.
Users are required to submit their name, email address, mobile number and a user name.
The app can then access their “friends” either via their contacts or by pairing with Facebook or Snapchat.
Once active, it automatically connects with contacts who also have Houseparty accounts.
Particularly popular with children and young people, it is more than just a video calling app as it allows them to interact by playing games and taking quizzes too, including “Heads Up,” a trivia game and a Pictionary-type game called “Quick Draw.”
Up to eight friends can join you in a “party” and there is the facility to “lock” the party, so that only invited guests can join.
Are there security concerns?
Rob Pritchard is the founder of The Cyber Security Expert, a UK-based company which advises companies on technical security issues. He told CNN Business that the reports of hacking he had seen online “don’t make much sense.”
“There’s no way that you downloading an app like this on your phone should lead to your Netflix or bank account being hacked,” he said.
He pointed out that a lot of people are signing up for new services, such as Houseparty and Netflix, in the current climate and that they may be using the same passwords for different apps.
“It’s really important that every online service user uses a unique password for every site they use,” Pritchard added.
He added that corporate “sabotage” was highly unlikely.