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Houseparty Denies Viral Hacking Rumors, Offers $1M Bounty for Proof of Smear Campaign

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  • Users of the group video chat service Houseparty have complained that their online accounts like Instagram, Netflix, Spotify, and even bank accounts were hacked after downloading the app. 
  • Houseparty said it found no evidence to suggest a link between its app and the hacking of unrelated accounts. 
  • The app also believes the rumors are part of a “commercial smear campaign” against it and are offering a $1 million dollar bounty for evidence that proves this. 
  • Forbes enlisted a cybersecurity expert who found no obvious dangers with the app, but damage to Houseparty’s reputation may have already been done as people continue to urge others to delete it.

Hacking Accusations Surface 

Houseparty is now the latest group video-chatting app to come under fire over privacy concerns, but the app is fighting back, aggressively denying recent data breach rumors. 

People forced indoors all over the world during the coronavirus pandemic have been turning to video-chatting apps over the last few weeks, not only for school and business meetings but also for virtual gatherings with friends and family. 

With apps like Zoom facing increased criticism over data sharing policies, meeting crashers, and other issues, many have instead opted to download its “fun” competitor, Houseparty, which features in-app group games like Heads Up!, QuickDraw!, and Trivia. 

But over the last few days, Houseparty users have been complaining on social media that their non-related accounts were compromised, including Instagram, Netflix, Spotify, and online-banking accounts, among others.

Many have suggested that the Epic Games owned app is in some way the reason for this.

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Houseparty Denies Rumors, Offers $1M Bounty

On Monday, an Epic Games spokesperson issued a statement saying, “We’ve found no evidence to suggest a link between Houseparty and the compromises of other unrelated accounts.” 

“As a general rule, we suggest all users choose strong passwords when creating online accounts on any platform,” it added. 

The company also took to Twitter to assure users that its “service is secure, has never been compromised, and doesn’t collect passwords for other sites.”

Later that same evening, the app launched more aggressive measures to shut down the hacking rumors, saying, “We are investigating indications that the recent hacking rumors were spread by a paid commercial smear campaign to harm Houseparty.”

The company even said it was offering a $1 million dollar bounty “for the first individual to provide proof of such a campaign.”  

Is Houseparty Safe? 

So is the app actually safe to use? Well, no app can be guaranteed 100% secure, but it seems like as of now, there are no dangerous flaws that have been found. Forbes released a report examining the app and enlisted cybersecurity and privacy researcher Lukas Stefanko to take a look at the Android version of it. Stefanko ultimately determined that there was nothing of concern. 

“I analyzed the app’s permissions usage and since the app provides video chats with your friends it is logical that requested permissions are necessary. I haven’t found any shady misusing of them by the app,” said Stefanko said. “The app doesn’t provide a lot of in-app options and settings, which creates less scenarios for exploiting security issues.”

From a privacy perspective, the Forbes report said there is one obvious issue that some might want to note before downloading. That is that the app’s games are open to any of your friends and any of your friends’ friends unless you lock the “room” where you’re playing. 

So essentially if you don’t lock rooms down, there’s a chance people you don’t know will invade your game. However, the report noted that there is an easy fix for this issue: simply hitting the padlock button at the bottom of the screen.

As far as its privacy policy, the report again said there was nothing outrageous there as well. They did say that the most concerning language in the policy says that the app can collect “anonymized and aggregated information, such as de-identified demographic information” and “de-identified location information.” The issue here is that even when location data is “de-identified,” it’s still possible to find out who the person is by linking it with other information.  

And while the app collects contacts so you can find friends to play with, the company promises that it “will never share your phone number or the phone numbers of third parties in your contacts with anyone else.”

Forbes noted that there is the standard warning that user data can be used for more targeted advertising and if you’re concerned enough about that, they provided specific steps you can take to boost privacy and still use the app. 

Thomas Brewster, the Security, surveillance and privacy reporter who wrote the Forbes report, later tweeted that he had reached out to a few different researchers for their opinion. They too had not found any notable security issues with Houseparty.

So as of now, it seems like the app is fine to use, but some don’t seem too convinced. The damage to Houseparty’s reputation may already be done as social media users continue to urge one another to delete the app altogether. However, we’ll all have to wait and see if Houseparty’s interesting efforts to debunk the rumor pay off in the future. 

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (Engadget) (BBC)

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Anti-Vaxxers Spread Conspiracy Theory Claiming Bob Saget Died From COVID-19 Booster Shot

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This comes less than a month after anti-vaxxers spread a similar false rumor about comedian Betty White.


Anti-Vaxxers Spread Unfounded Theory About Bob Saget’s Death

Anti-vax and right-wing conspiracy theorists are spreading unfounded claims that comedian Bob Saget died as a result of receiving his COVID-19 booster shot.

Saget, best known for his role as Danny Tanner on “Full House,” died this week at the age of 65 in Orlando, Florida. The Orange County Sheriff’s office said they were responding to “a call about an unresponsive man in a hotel room” and pronounced Saget dead on the scene at the Ritz-Carlton. They found “no signs of foul play or drug use” and some reports have since claimed that it appears Saget may have died in his sleep. No further cause of death has been released. 

Not long after the news of his death, anti-vaxxers begin circulating baseless claims that a COVID-19 booster shot killed Saget. Saget said he received his booster shot on a Dec. 13 episode of his podcast. Many have shared a clip where he talks about the booster to suggest that was his cause of death.

COVID-19 vaccines and boosters have been proven to be both safe and effective. That, of course, has not stopped conspiracy theorists from endlessly touting false assertions about unproven side effects and responses.

Claims about Saget’s death being vaccine-related can be found on Twitter, Reddit, TikTok, Telegram, and other social media platforms. Many of the posts, despite containing clear misinformation, have remained on these sites for several days without being taken down. 

Candace Owens Promotes Booster Theory

The conspiracy found a large platform this week when conservative news personality Candace Owens discussed it on her Daily Wire talk show. Owens has repeatedly spoken against COVID-19 vaccines and uses her platform to regularly share all kinds of political and cultural misinformation. 

During the Jan. 11 episode of “Candace,” which was flagged by Media Matters, Owens said the public has a “right to demand answers” about the circumstances around Saget’s death and the booster. 

“I’m just not on Big Pharma’s payroll and I refuse to peddle in their lies. And so to that end, today, I’m going to point out another truth and it will likely be deemed a conspiracy theory until it’s not,” she said. “There are too many healthy individuals, like Bob Saget, who we know have received their vaccinations, who are dropping dead, suddenly and unexpectedly, with no further explanation. Healthy athletes, young students in their physical prime — the majority of them males — dropping dead suddenly and unexpectedly in the middle of games from heart issues.”

Owens continued to peddle anti-vax rhetoric regarding the media and vaccine mandates. She also spewed unsubstantiated suggestions that “healthy men are dying” because of vaccines. 

“All of this to say I don’t know why a healthy man, who was in the middle of a comedy tour, suddenly and unexpectedly drops dead in his hotel room,” she continued. “But I do know that we have a right to ask the question. All of us do. In fact, when the entire world has suddenly and unexpectedly been prescribed an injection that we don’t need, it is not only our right to ask questions but also our right to demand answers.”

Anti-Vax Misinformation Has Found A Large Platform

Not even a month before Saget’s death, anti-vaxxers likewise falsely claimed that comedian and actress Betty White died from receiving her COVID-19 booster. White passed at the age of 99, just weeks before her 100th birthday. According to her death certificate, she died from a stroke she had six days before her death on Dec. 31. 

After people started falsely claiming the booster caused her death, White’s agent released a statement clarifying these rumors were not true. 

“Betty died peacefully in her sleep at her home,” Jeff Witjas told People Magazine. “People are saying her death was related to getting a booster shot three days earlier but that is not true. She died of natural causes. Her death should not be politicized — that is not the life she lived.”

Media platforms have struggled to control the swelling amount of misinformation users constantly spread, specifically regarding the pandemic and vaccinations. While many sites have promised to remove, flag, or fact-check incorrect posts, anyone who wants to find anti-vax information will have an easy time doing so. 

This week, a group of doctors and medical workers urged Spotify to lay out a misinformation policy, citing the false claims Joe Rogan has repeatedly made about vaccines on his podcast. Several international fact-checking organizations also recently demanded that YouTube do more to fight disinformation on its service. Over the last year, citizens and politicians have asked that Twitter, Facebook, and Google do more to slow the spread of pandemic-related misinformation.

“While we understand that your companies have implemented policies regarding the removal of vaccine-related misinformation and dedicated resources to stop the spread of misinformation, we believe more must be done,” a group of Democratic senators wrote in a letter to the three company’s CEOs. “It is imperative that you be transparent about the amount of harmful misinformation that appears on your platforms and the effectiveness of your efforts to remove this content, so that public health organizations and experts can respond appropriately.”

See what others are saying: (Insider) (The Daily Beast) (The Daily Dot)

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Kim Kardashian, Floyd Mayweather, and Others Sued Over Alleged EthereumMax Crypto Scam

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EthereumMax executives and partners are being accused of sharing “misleading promotions and celebrity endorsements” in order to “artificially increase the interest in and price” of the coin.


Lawsuit Alleging Crypto Scam Filed in California

Reality star Kim Kardashian, boxer Floyd Mayweather, and former NBA star Paul Pierce are among several celebrities and executives being sued for allegedly misleading investors into a pump-and-dump crypto scam.

The class-action lawsuit was filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California by New York resident Ryan Huegerich. Huegerich brought the complaint on behalf of himself and others who claim to have lost money after investing in the coin EthereumMax between May 14, 2021 and June 27, 2021.

Kardashian, Mayweather, and Pierce are among a slew of people with substantial followings who promoted EthereumMax in the spring and summer of 2021. Pierce tweeted about the coin, saying he “made more money with this crypto in the past month” than he did with ESPN in a year. Kardashian touted the cryptocurrency in an Instagram story post that included a link for her followers to “swipe up to join the E-Max community.”

Mayweather drew attention to EthereumMax during his highly-anticipated fight against YouTuber Logan Paul, which accepted the coin as payment for tickets to the event. During the match, he wore shorts with the coin’s name and logo. Mayweather also endorsed the coin during a Bitcoin conference in Miami, Florida. 

Plaintiffs Allege Stars Participated in Pump-And-Dump Scheme

The plaintiffs argued that the three stars, along with several others, promoted the coin with false information. According to the lawsuit, the defendants touted “the ability for investors to make significant returns due to the favorable ‘tokenomics’ of the EMAX Tokens” in order to sell their portions for a pump-and-dump profit.

The Company’s executives, collaborating with several celebrity promotors, (a) made false or misleading statements to investors about EthereumMax through social media advertisements and other promotional activities and (b) disguised their control over EthereumMax and a significant percent of the EMAX Tokens that were available for public trading during the Relevant Period,” the lawsuit said.

“The misleading promotions and celebrity endorsements were able to artificially increase the interest in and price of the EMAX Tokens during the Relevant Period, causing investors to purchase these losing investments at inflated prices,” the suit continued.

The plaintiffs slammed the EthereumMax coin as a “speculative digital token created by a mysterious group of cryptocurrency developers.” According to the lawsuit, the coin “has no connection” to the popular cryptocurrency Ethereum, but uses the name in an effort to “mislead investors into believing that the EMAX Tokens were a part of the Ethereum network (when they are not).”

A spokesperson for EthereumMax condemned the allegations in a statement to The Wall Street Journal.

“The deceptive narrative associated with the recent allegations is riddled with misinformation,” the spokesperson said.

Kardashian, Mayweather, and Pierce have not responded publicly to the lawsuit. 

See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (CNBC) (BBC News)

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Cardi B’s Defamation Suit Against YouTuber Goes to Trial

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Cardi B claims the YouTuber “became obsessed with slandering and harassing” her.


Cardi B Alleges YouTuber Harmed Her Reputation

The trial for a defamation case rapper Cardi B brought against an entertainment YouTuber began Monday in Atlanta, Georgia.

In the lawsuit, Cardi claims that Latasha Kebe, who is known online as UnwineWithTashaK, repeatedly made false statements in an effort to destroy the “Up” singer’s reputation. The suit alleges that Kebe told her YouTube following that Cardi had worked as a prostitute, used cocaine, cheated on her husband, and had contracted STDs like herpes and HPV.

Kebe reached one million subscribers last week. Her videos get anywhere from 50,000 to 500,000 views. 

Cardi has called the purportedly unfounded statements “degrading and harassing.” She says that Kebe began spreading the misinformation in 2018 and has since made dozens of videos furthering those claims. 

Kebe became obsessed with slandering and harassing [Cardi],” the lawsuit says per Rolling Stone, which obtained a copy of the document. “In the 16 months preceding the filing of this lawsuit, Kebe put out at least 38 videos regarding [the rapper].”

What Will Be Argued in Court?

Kebe has denied the accusations and previously countersued, alleging that Cardi encouraged her fans to harass her online. A judge dismissed the suit over a lack of evidence. 

According to Billboard, the trial is expected to last two weeks. It is unknown if Cardi will have to take the witness stand herself. 

Michael S. Overing, a lawyer and defamation expert not involved in the case, told Rolling Stone that Cardi has good odds of winning her case.

Cardi probably has a pretty good shot at this one,” he said, noting she had provided “very specific factual statements” that could potentially be “readily proven false.”

“But the problem with these lawsuits, traditionally, is that it’s very hard to prove that you suffered actual damages,” he continued. “This is where the question of actual malice comes in.” 

Overing, among other experts, believes that much of this case will come down to whether or not the jury believes that Kebe acted with ill-intent. This means that in order to win the case, the musician’s team will likely have to prove that Kebe knew the claims were false when she spread them.

See what others are saying: (Billboard) (Rolling Stone)

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