Clubhouse Announces That Its App Will Be Available on Android Worldwide by Friday

Illustration for article titled Clubhouse Announces That Its App Will Be Available on Android Worldwide by Friday

Photo: Mark Schiefelbein (AP)

Faced with plummeting app downloads on iOS in recent months, Clubhouse has one thing to say: Hello, Android.

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The audio-based social network announced on Sunday in a town hall it would be rolling out to Android users worldwide by Friday afternoon, May 21. In a Twitter post, Clubhouse said that it would start its expansion with Japan, Brazil, and Russia on Tuesday. The company said it would add availability in other countries throughout the week, specifying that it would launch in Nigeria and India on Friday morning.

Clubhouse told Gizmodo on Sunday that it had begun its first wave of the Android beta rollout in the U.S. last week. In the end, the company also ended up launching its app in New Zealand, Canada, Australia, and the UK. Clubhouse said the app is still invitation-only, but that people can download the app on the Play Store, and friends on the app may invite them in.

Besides announcing its worldwide expansion on Android, Clubhouse said it was working on feature parity in Android and iOS. TechCrunch points out that Clubhouse’s Android app still lacks several features offered on iOS. During last week’s Android launch, the outlet stated, users couldn’t follow a topic, create or manage a club, link their social profiles, make payments, or change their profile name.

While Clubhouse’s expansion on Android was expected, and some might say overdue, the app might be hoping that rolling out to more devices will allow it to recover its lost steam. Since its iOS launch last year, the app has seen explosive growth, attracting tech billionaires like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

The shininess around Clubhouse recently began to taper off, though. According to the analytics firm SensorTower, Clubhouse had 2 million downloads in January and then jumped to more than 9.5 million in February. Downloads dipped in March to 2.7 million and then again in April, when they dropped to below a million.

The reasons for Clubhouse’s rollercoaster of growth over these past few months are still up in the air. Some say that the app became a success because it launched at the beginning of the pandemic, a time when so many of us were stuck inside and starved for human connection. Today, the world is different. Things are opening back up again. Vaccinated people are taking off their masks and going outside, so the idea of chatting on an audio-only platform may just not hold the same appeal.

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The social app landscape is different as well because users have more options. Big Tech’s social apps are all copying Clubhouse’s format. Instagram, for instance, has given users the option to turn off their audio or video when using Instagram Live. Twitter has launched Spaces, which allows users to join virtual rooms and have real-time audio conversations with others. Facebook is also working on its own version of Clubhouse, as are LinkedIn, Spotify, and Slack, just to name a few.

It’s unclear whether Clubhouse’s global rollout to Android will save it from becoming a passing fad, but we’ll find out soon.

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TikTok Wants To Be Its Own Economy

Illustration for article titled TikTok Wants To Be Its Own Economy

Photo: Drew Angerer (Getty Images)

TikTok is apparently the latest platform to make the shift from social media site to a glorified digital mall. On Tuesday, Bloomberg reported that TikTok has started floating the idea of in-app shopping to brands over in Europe, hoping to hook young EU shoppers—and their wallets—in the process.

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According to the report, this e-shopping feature is still in the early stages, and there isn’t a set deadline when TikTokers across the globe will start seeing it crop up into their feeds. One of the brands with access to this prototype—Hype, a streetwear label that’s right at home with TikTok’s Gen-Z audience—confirmed to Bloomberg that these tests are ongoing, but wouldn’t go into details.

Bloomberg was able to see a screenshot of what Hype’s initial TikTok Shop might look like and from its description, it sounds pretty similar to the so-called “product catalogs” you’ve probably seen on your Instagram feed. These storefronts—at least at this early stage—are under a brand’s main account page, and they show off a range of merch with product pictures and prices.

These features are TikTok’s latest attempt to get a slice of the “social commerce” pie, which is the insider term for shopping that gets squeezed into a given social media platform. By the end of 2020, some analysts estimate that folks across the country spent close to $475 billion, and that number’s expected to shoot towards $585 billion by the end of this year.

TikTok has spent the better part of three years trying to make headway among the e-commerce crowd. In 2019, Levi’s became one of the first retailers to use a specific TikTok product that would slap a “shop now” button onto its ads, which would then direct those that click on it to Levi’s store. Then in 2020, TikTok began testing a similar button that would let individual creators direct their own audiences to the store of their choice. In that case, the ad revenue would be split between the creator featured in the ad, and TikTok itself. Meanwhile, the company is continuing to score deals with major names like Walmart and Elf Cosmetics, both equally ready to drop their ad dollars on the platform if it can promise some sales.

The big difference between what these brands were offered before versus what Bloomberg’s report is describing is where this shopping happens—within TikTok’s app, rather than on some brand’s (or creator’s) site.

In a statement to Bloomberg, the company said that it had been “testing and learning with e-commerce offerings and partnerships,” and that it’s “constantly exploring” new ways to add value to its users. The company added that it will “provide updates as we explore these important avenues for our community of users, creators and brands.”

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Apparently, one of those avenues is focused on earning money instead of spending it. The same day that Bloomberg’s report came out, sources familiar with the company told Axios about a pilot program designed to help brands use TikTok to scout for potential job candidates to hire. Users can present their resume in the form of a TikTok (naturally), and Axios reports that TikTok will ask these candidates to share these video resume’s on their public profiles.

WhatsApp Will Turn Your Account Into a Useless Zombie If You Don’t Accept Its New Privacy Policy

Illustration for article titled WhatsApp Will Turn Your Account Into a Useless Zombie If You Don't Accept Its New Privacy Policy

Image: WhatsApp, Graphic: Shoshana Wodinsky (Gizmodo)

After facing international backlash over impending updates to its privacy policy, WhatsApp has ever-so-slightly backtracked on the harsh consequences it initially planned for users who don’t accept them—but not entirely.

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In an update to the company’s FAQ page, WhatsApp clarifies that no users will have their accounts deleted or instantly lose app functionality if they don’t accept the new policies. It’s a step back from what WhatsApp had been telling users up until this point. When this page was first posted back in February, it specifically told users that those who don’t accept the platform’s new policies “won’t have full functionality” until they do. The threat of losing functionality is still there, but it won’t be automatic.

“For a short time, you’ll be able to receive calls and notifications, but won’t be able to read or send messages from the app,” WhatsApp wrote at the time. While the deadline to accept was initially early February, the blowback the company got from, well, just about everyone, caused the deadline to be postponed until May 15—this coming Saturday.

After that, folks that gave the okay to the new policy won’t notice any difference to their daily WhatsApp experience, and neither will the people that didn’t—at least at first. “After a period of several weeks, the reminder [to accept] people receive will eventually become persistent,” WhatsApp wrote, adding that users getting these “persistent” reminders will see their app stymied pretty significantly: For a “few weeks,” users won’t be able to access their chat lists, but will be able to answer incoming phone and video calls made over WhatsApp. After that grace period, WhatsApp will stop sending messages and calls to your phone entirely (until you accept).

So while WhatsApp isn’t technically disabling your app, the company is making it pretty much unusable.

What these “persistent reminders” will look like.

What these “persistent reminders” will look like.
Graphic: WhatsApp

It’s worth mentioning here that if you keep the app installed but still refuse to accept the policy for whatever reason, WhatsApp won’t outright delete your account because of that. That said, WhatsApp will probably delete your account due to “inactivity” if you don’t connect for 120 days, as is WhatsApp policy.

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In a statement to the Verge, a WhatsApp spokesperson reiterated what was already written in the new FAQ: that people’s accounts won’t be deleted, that they’ll continue to receive reminders, and that they won’t lose functionality on the day the deadline hits:

We’ve spent the last several months providing more information about our update to users around the world.

In that time, the majority of people who have received it have accepted the update and WhatsApp continues to grow. However, for those that have not yet had a chance to do so, their accounts will not be deleted or lose functionality on May 15. We’ll continue to provide reminders to those users within WhatsApp in the weeks to come.

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While the company has done the bare minimum in explaining what this privacy policy update actually means, the company hasn’t done much to assuage the concerns of lawyers, lawmakers, or really anyone else. And it doesn’t look like these new “reminders” will put them at ease, either.

Clubhouse Launches Android Beta as iOS Downloads Nosedive

Illustration for article titled Clubhouse Launches Android Beta as iOS Downloads Nosedive

Photo: Mark Schiefelbein (AP)

Good news: The audio-based social network Clubhouse is finally bringing its app to Android after more than a year of iOS exclusivity, the company announced Sunday. Bad news: The beta is only available for U.S. users, and, just as with Clubhouse’s iOS version, it remains invite-only for now. So not just anyone can sign up and join in the app’s audio-only chatrooms.

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Downloads of the app have reportedly been plummeting in recent months, so it’s likely Clubhouse hopes that welcoming users on the largest smartphone OS in the world users will save it from spiraling further. The app surpassed 9.5 million downloads in February but dipped to about 2.7 million in March and fell to just 900,000 in April, according to the analytics firm Sensor Tower.

In a Sunday blog post, Clubhouse said it plans to gradually roll out the Android version to other English-speaking markets and then the rest of the world. For those outside the U.S., you can pre-register for access on the Clubhouse page in the Google Play store to be alerted once the app becomes available near you.

“Our plan over the next few weeks is to collect feedback from the community, fix any issues we see and work to add a few final features like payments and club creation before rolling it out more broadly,” the company said.

Over the summer, Clubhouse also plans to welcome millions of iOS users who have been stuck on the iOS waitlist as it improves the app’s infrastructure, which includes expanding language support and adding more accessibility features.

Clubhouse’s download rates could be declining for any number of reasons. Some experts have theorized that the audio-only social media craze may have been a pandemic-era fad that helped people feel connected while stuck in their homes. With vaccines rolling out and many areas across the U.S. opening up again, it could be that people are simply connecting in person more these days, leaving Clubhouse in the dust. It’s also possible that interest is waning because every other tech giant has either rolled out or is cooking up a copycat app to get in on the social audio hype train.

Another possible factor: Two high-profile security snafus hit the company in February amid a flood of hype and celebrity sign-ups, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. In Sunday’s blog post, Clubhouse acknowledged that it has struggled to keep up with its platform’s ballooning growth earlier this year.

“Earlier this year, Clubhouse started growing very quickly, as people all over the world began inviting their friends faster than we had ever expected. This had its downsides, as the load stressed our systems—causing widespread server outages and notification failures, and surpassing the limits of our early discovery algorithms. It made us shift our focus to hiring, fixing, and company building, rather than the community meetups and product features that we normally like to focus on.”

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Clubhouse is increasingly looking like the flash in the pan experts suspected it might be, but who knows, maybe this much-anticipated launch on Android will turn things around. We’ll have to wait and see.

Clubhouse Is Losing Steam

Illustration for article titled Clubhouse Is Losing Steam

Photo: Boumen Japet (Shutterstock)

Clubhouse—the company that was making headlines just a few months back for drawing major celebrities (and Elon Musk)—seems to have reached a tipping point. In April, the app reached a grand total of 922,000 downloads, new research found, a sharp downturn after bringing in millions of new users just a month earlier.

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These numbers come from the analytics firm SensorTower, which had previously pointed out that the app’s been on a downward slope for months. In January, Clubhouse hit 2 million downloads. In February, the app shot past 9.5 million downloads but dipped back down to about 2.7 million in March, according to the firm’s count. Now it’s fallen short of a million downloads per month for April, a low that we haven’t seen since December of last year.

There are all sorts of reasons those numbers might be on the decline. Some have theorized that the audio-only app, which remains exclusively for iOS, was a smash hit over the pandemic simply because so many of us were starved for conversation with other people. With vaccination numbers skyrocketing across the U.S., and people actually beginning to leave their houses for the first time in god-knows-how-long, there’s a chance that Clubhouse is simply a pandemic-era fad. There’s also the fact that high-profile competitors like Facebook, Twitter, and Spotify have collectively jumped onto the social audio train in an attempt to court Clubhouse’s user base. On Monday, for example, Twitter formally rolled out its own Clubhouse competitor, Spaces, to all Android and iOS users who have 600 followers or more.

Clubhouse, in the meantime, has been working on courting those users back. The company announced on Sunday that the company is testing an Android version of its app with a handful of “friendly testers” outside the company. Even though there isn’t a way for the broader Android community to sign up for this app right now, Clubhouse explained in its release notes that it plans to welcome these users to the platform “over the coming weeks.”

Instagram Realizes It Had a Clubhouse In Its Heart All Along

Illustration for article titled Instagram Realizes It Had a Clubhouse In Its Heart All Along

Image: Instagram

As more and more social media platforms start cooking up their own Clubhouse clones, Instagram is adding new features to its existing livestreaming service to get in on the voice chat craze. On Thursday, Instagram announced it’s rolling out the option to turn off your audio or video while using Instagram Live.

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Instagram tested these new features publically on Monday during an Instagram Live broadcast between Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram. Starting today, global audiences on both iOS and Android will have access to them too.

“We want to build on our Live product and offer even more ways for our creator community to drive serendipitous, engaging conversation with each other and their audience,” a company spokesperson told Gizmodo via email. “By giving people the option to mute their audio or turn off their video, hosts will have the added flexibility for their livestream experience, as the added functionality could help decrease pressure to look or sound a certain way while broadcasting live.”

As for now, broadcasters won’t be able to turn on or off the video or mute others in their livestreams, but Instagram said it’s working on adding these kinds of options soon.

In a similar move, Instagram’s parent company Facebook added Live Audio Rooms to its platform and Messenger app back in March. It also has a Clubhouse-inspired Q&A platform called Hotline in the works.

LinkedIn, Twitter, Slack, and a slew of other online platforms have jumped at the chance to develop their own voice chat features in recent months, trying to capitalize on the relaxed, “video off” experience popularized by Clubhouse.

Whether or not it’s just a flash in the pan remains to be seen, but Clubhouse’s investors sure seem to have faith in its staying power. The company was reportedly valued at roughly $4 billion amid negotiations with investors during a round of funding earlier this month. However, Clubhouse’s explosive growth is starting to show signs of waning, Insider reports. According to data from app analytics firm Sensor Tower, the number of monthly app installs worldwide tanked between February and March, from 9.6 million downloads to 2.7 million downloads respectively.

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Clubhouse’s rise in popularity has been partially tied to the coronavirus pandemic keeping many people stuck inside and pushing them toward socially distanced opportunities, such as public audio chatrooms, to connect. With the world slowly beginning to open back up again as vaccines roll out, it appears Clubhouse shtick may be wearing thin for some users.

Man Banned From Carrying ‘Loose QR Codes’ After Altering Covid Check-In Signs

Patrons use the Covid safe QR codes before entering WOMADelaide 2021 on March 05, 2021 in Adelaide, Australia.

Patrons use the Covid safe QR codes before entering WOMADelaide 2021 on March 05, 2021 in Adelaide, Australia.
Photo: Kelly Barnes (Getty Images)

A man in the Australian state of South Australia was arrested Wednesday after allegedly placing his own QR codes on two official covid-19 check-in signs, according to police in South Australia. The man was granted bail with one very specific condition: He can’t carry “loose QR codes” anywhere.

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The government of South Australia operates an app called “covid-safe check-in” that allows users to scan a QR code at local businesses and events, giving the information to contact tracers when there’s been a confirmed case of covid-19 in the area. But some people have been incredibly hostile to the program, believing it’s an unreasonable invasion of privacy.

The 51-year-old man who allegedly put up the the fake QR codes, identified as Colin Mark Davies by local news site Adelaide Now, was charged on Wednesday with two counts of obstructing operations related to covid-19, a crime under emergency powers granted during the pandemic.

Davies allegedly placed the fake QR codes at two sites in the Forbes Shopping Center in South Plympton on Sunday and those codes reportedly redirected to an anti-vaccination website. Anyone using the official South Australia covid-19 app wouldn’t be redirected by the altered QR code, according to Australia’s ABC News, but users could be redirected to the anti-vaxx site if they scanned the code with their camera app.

It’s not clear if Davies is connected to other recently altered signs in South Australia that have reportedly included anti-vaccination propaganda. Businesses in the suburbs of Adelaide Hills and Blackwood had their QR codes changed by unknown perpetrators in recent days.

A lawyer for Davies told Adelaide Now that he just “wanted to get his message out to the public,” though the specifics of that message were not articulated.

From Adelaide Now:

Magistrate Michelle Sutcliffe released Davies on $800 bail, and banned him from approaching the shopping centre or possessing any loose QR codes.

He will face court again in July.

Australia has done relatively well during the covid-19 pandemic, with just over 29,000 confirmed cases of the disease and 910 deaths according to Johns Hopkins University. However, the country has struggled with getting Australians vaccinated, with only about 2 million of the country’s 25 million people receiving a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine as of Wednesday.

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Davies faces a maximum penalty of $10,000, according to South Australian police, though he doesn’t face any jail time.

Reddit’s Reportedly Cooking Up Its Own Clubhouse-Like Voice Chat Feature

Illustration for article titled Reddit's Reportedly Cooking Up Its Own Clubhouse-Like Voice Chat Feature

Photo: Olivier Douliery (Getty Images)

Rumor has it the front page of the internet may be the latest online platform cooking up a social audio feature a la the voice-only chat app Clubhouse.

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Reddit is quietly working on incorporating moderator-run voice chats onto the platform, a person familiar with the matter said in a Friday Mashable report. In an interview with the outlet, the source described the feature’s development as confidential and still in its early stages.

If this voice chat feature ever does see the light of day, odds are it’ll roll out under Reddit’s “power-ups” banner, an initiative the company launched last year to experiment with new subscription-based features specific to individual subreddits.

In its initial announcement, Reddit listed several examples of these features, called power-ups, such as the “ability to upload and stream up to HD quality video,” “video file limits doubled,” and “inline GIFs in comments,” among others. Subreddits can unlock these perks after enough of their members purchase monthly power-up subscriptions, with the minimum threshold for each community determined by its size.

At the time, Reddit made it crystal clear it wanted to hear from users for future suggestions.

“The new experiment helps create a framework that allows us to add ‘nice to have’ features for subreddits,” Reddit said in its announcement in August. “We are starting with a few handpicked features and expect to add more as we get input from you and the communities that have opted into our early testing.”

Given all the buzz about social audio services these days, I suspect “voice chat” scored pretty high on the list of suggestions. Though I can understand why Reddit may want to keep things under wraps for now given how royally it screwed up trying to introduce chat rooms last year. TLDR: Reddit pushed out the feature with little forewarning and seemingly zero thought about moderation, as subreddit mods couldn’t opt-out of chats or control them. It was a disaster. 

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Reddit did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment, but we’ll be sure to update this blog when they do.

Time will tell if this audio chat craze is a flash in the pan, but what is clear is that the landscape is quickly becoming crowded. Clubhouse has inspired several copycats since its launch in March 2020, with Twitter, LinkedIn, Slack, and TikTok’s parent company, Bytedance, all reportedly rushing to get in on the action with their own audio chat features. Facebook also began beta testing for its Clubhouse clone, a web-based Q&A platform that it’s calling Hotline, this week.

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Facebook Is Officially Beta Testing Hotline, a Clubhouse-Inspired Audio Q&A Feature

Illustration for article titled Facebook Is Officially Beta Testing Hotline, a Clubhouse-Inspired Audio Q&A Feature

Photo: LOIC VENANCE / Contributor (Getty Images)

Facebook on Wednesday ran its first public beta test of Hotline — a web-based Q&A platform that seems like it was dreamed up as the platform’s answer to the current voice chat app craze.

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More specifically, Hotline is designed to function as a sort of love child between Instagram Live and Clubhouse, TechCrunch reports: Creators will address an audience of users, who will then be able to respond by asking questions with either text or audio. Unlike Clubhouse — which is strictly an audio-only platform — Hotline users will have the option to turn their cameras on during events, adding a visual element to an otherwise voice-dominated experience.

Hotline is currently being developed by Facebook’s NPE Team, which handles experimental app development within the company, and is being led by Eric Hazzard, who created the positivity-focused Q&A app tbh that Facebook acquired before pivoting Hotline.

A public livestream of the app’s functionality on Wednesday was led by real estate investor Nick Huber, who spoke about industrial real estate as a second income stream — which should give you a pretty good idea about exactly what type of creators Hotline will be attempting to net once it’s live. Close observers of the stream will have noticed that Hotline’s interface closely resembles Clubhouse’s, in that the speaker’s icon is situated atop or astride an “audience,” which is populated by listeners whose profiles appear below the livestream (on the desktop version, the audience is off to the side).

Where the app differs from Clubhouse is in its functionality for “audience” members, who will see the questions they ask appear in a list at the top of the stream which other users can then choose to upvote or downvote. The creator will also have the option to pull listeners onto the “stage” area to join them in a back and forth, which will be something closer to Zoom in nature than its audio-only forebears.

In a statement on Wednesday, Facebook declined to offer specific details about a launch date for Hotline, but said that developers have been encouraged to see how new multimedia features and formats “continue to help people connect and build community.

“With Hotline, we’re hoping to understand how interactive, live multimedia Q&As can help people learn from experts in areas like professional skills, just as it helps those experts build their businesses,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

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An Android App That Promised Free Netflix Shockingly Just Highly Annoying Malware

Illustration for article titled An Android App That Promised Free Netflix Shockingly Just Highly Annoying Malware

Photo: OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP (Getty Images)

So-called pirating apps have been around for years—and they have only gained popularity since covid-19 put us all indefinitely on the couch, phone in hand, awaiting a reason (that never comes) to stop streaming.

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Well, not all pirating apps have your content-viewing interests in mind. Enter “FlixOnline.” Until recently, this app sat in Google’s Play Store, promising users the opportunity to gain free mobile access to Netflix from anywhere in the world, even if they didn’t have an account. Sounds too good to be true, right?

Yes, well, exactly.

FlixOnline, discovered by security firm Check Point Research, never actually let users binge Breaking Bad or whatever. Instead, the researchers say, it delivered a self-replicating worm onto their devices—the likes of which could potentially be used by hackers in phishing and data-theft operations.

According to researchers, the Flix wormable malware burrows into a phone by abusing its permissions, then uses a victim’s WhatsApp conversations to spread itself. As soon as you download it, Flix asks for access to a variety of your device’s controls. It then hijacks your WhatsApp and uses it to send spammy messages to people who message you. For instance, if your friend sends you, “Hey dude, whaddup,” Flix will secretly auto-reply for you, sending them a, uh, really subtle advertisement for its fake services:

“2 Months of Netflix Premium Free at no cost For REASON OF QUARANTINE (CORONA VIRUS)* VIRUS)* Get 2 Months of Netflix Premium Free anywhere in the world for 60 days. Get it now HERE” [insert malicious link].

If your friend, lost in a confused fog—baffled by the fact that their pal of many years has transformed, overnight, into a robotic Netflix shill—happens to click on the link provided, they get directed to a website where they can download the app, and the malware replicates itself anew. Researchers say the site could easily serve as a way for hackers to steal a victim’s personal information. In truth, it’s hard to imagine most people being, let’s say, gullible enough to follow that last step, but then again, “123456″ remains a popular password.

So, voila! It’s like a moral lesson about the ills of piracy, packed into a very, very stupid app—an app that does literally nothing except hijack your conversations with friends and loved ones to re-spawn its own daft, useless existence.

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Of course, the access supplied by an app like this means a bad actor could definitely abuse it to do more than send annoying messages (they could steal your private information and thereby entrap you in an extortion scheme, for instance). Additionally, if the messages being sent to a victim’s contacts were modified to something other than a hacky Netflix ad, or additional malicious links were added to the hijacked WhatsApp messages, a person could have quite a mess on their hands. So, it’s not just an annoying app, but potentially dangerous, too.

Perhaps the worst thing here is that Flix sat in the Play Store for approximately two months, compromising about 500 devices, according to Check Point (the app has since been taken down). It’s another great example of how Google hasn’t always done an amazing job when it comes to weeding out bad apps being distributed on its platform.

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“The fact that the malware was able to be disguised so easily and ultimately bypass Play Store’s protections raises some serious red flags,” said Aviran Hazum, manager of mobile intelligence at Check Point. He added that, while this specific malware campaign was halted, the same malware could be deployed again via a different fake app. So… be careful out there, my pirate friends. Remember: There’s no such thing as free content.