Houseparty, the group video chat app that allows users to interact in “rooms”, is unsurprisingly becoming one of the most popular social media platforms in the current global environment. Distinguishing features are: (i) the ability to move between chat sessions happening simultaneously in other rooms; and (ii) the ability to play party games while chatting, which is a welcome distraction from the more serious conversation topics that tend to dominate our interactions at the moment!

Something often forgotten in a social media context is that it is always a good idea to read the provider’s terms before using any app or online service. Not only can these usually form a binding contract between you and the provider (and you should never enter into any contract without knowing what it says), reading the terms will also help you to find out: (i) how the app or service operates and what you can and cannot use it for; and (ii) how your data will be handled.

Houseparty is operated by Life on Air, Inc. (owned by Epic Games Inc., the developer of Fortnite). The Terms of Service, Community Guidelines and Privacy Policy all apply to your use of Houseparty. Here are five things you should know before your next Houseparty hangout:

1.      Are your sessions recorded?

The Terms of Service state that user content will only be used for the purpose of providing the Houseparty service and the Privacy Policy has been updated recently in response to press reports alleging compromised user data (which Life on Air denies). However, neither these documents nor the Houseparty FAQ expressly deal with whether entire sessions are passively recorded by Life on Air.

You can record your chat sessions using the Screen Share function. Everything on your screen will be recorded (including the faces and voices of other users in the room) and can be saved to your device or broadcast to another conferencing app (like Zoom or Skype). Other users are not notified, so you should let everyone in the room know before you start recording. You should also be aware of this when chatting to anyone that you do not know and trust (see Party-crashers below). Short parts of chat sessions can also be recorded through the Facemail function, although other users are notified when this occurs.

2.      Party-crashers

You are live immediately on opening the app and your connections (and then their connections) can join your room unless you lock it.

You can add your friends or family members as Houseparty connections. You will then be notified when they are online unless they have hidden their presence by selecting “Sneak into House” when opening the app. Rooms are “unlocked” by default, so anyone who is connected to you, or someone else in the room, can join your session uninvited. When opening the app, you will see those of your connections who are currently in an unlocked room. If you do not want party-crashers in your room, you need to lock it using the “Lock” button. Anyone in the room can lock and unlock it at any time (other users will be notified).

3.      Avoid raucous parties

Life on Air does not undertake to monitor content but reserves the right to do so (and as mentioned above, it is not clear whether sessions are recorded). Violation of the AUP or Community Guidelines may result in your account being suspended or terminated. You also give a wide indemnity to Life on Air for any loss or damage connected with your use of Houseparty or violation of the terms.

You can report activity that violates the AUP or Community Guidelines. You can also un-friend or block any person with whom you do not want to engage (they may be aware that you have done this) even if they have not violated these terms.

Like most apps and online services, Houseparty has an “acceptable use policy” (AUP) in the Terms of Service that prohibits activities such as making available content that is defamatory or obscene, or that violates the rights of others. The Community Guidelines refer to additional behaviour that will not be tolerated, including bullying, threats and discrimination. While there is nothing unexpected or controversial in these prohibitions, be aware that “Houseparty” is not synonymous with “anything goes”.

4.      No under 13s in the house

Notwithstanding the AUP and Community Guidelines, parents of under 13s should be aware that Houseparty is not intended for their use. The Privacy Policy states that, if Life on Air discovers that it has unintentionally collected children’s information (e.g. if a child uses a false birth date when creating an account), that account will promptly be terminated.

5.      Do not use Houseparty for work-related chats

With many systems currently under strain, virtual business meetings are often interrupted by technology failures. Although it may be tempting to resort to other measures to communicate, you should not use Houseparty for work-related discussions. The two main reasons for this are: (i) the Terms of Service allow use for personal and non-commercial purposes only; and (ii) the app is not intended for sharing client and other sensitive business information, and the liability disclaimers expressly exclude recourse for data-related losses.