Tech

Video chat app Houseparty offers $1 million bounty for proof of sabotage after hacking rumors

Key Points
  • Social media users claimed that, after downloading Houseparty, they have since been locked out of accounts from third party apps.
  • The popular video chat app has denied such rumors and said they may have been "spread by a paid commercial smear campaign."
  • It's now offering a $1 million bounty reward to anyone who can uncover proof of such a campaign.
The Houseparty app icon is seen displayed on phone screen in this illustration photo.
Jakub Porzycki | NurPhoto via Getty Images

Houseparty, an app that has boomed in popularity amid the coronavirus outbreak, is offering a $1 million bounty reward to anyone who can uncover what it's calling a "smear campaign" to spread rumors of a cyber breach.

The video conferencing app has been the subject of several complaints on social media. Many have alleged that, after downloading Houseparty, they have since been locked out of their accounts from Netflix, PayPal, Spotify and even banking providers.

It has publicly disputed such complaints, stating the platform is "secure, has never been compromised, and doesn't collect passwords for other sites."

But now Houseparty, which was acquired last year by "Fortnite" video game developer Epic Games, says it believes the hacking rumors may have been "spread by a paid commercial smear campaign."

"We are offering a $1,000,000 bounty for the first individual to provide proof of such a campaign," the social network told its 367,000 Twitter followers late Monday. It's somewhat reminiscent of so-called "bug bounty" programs run by tech companies to help them find and fix security vulnerabilities.

Several Twitter users replied to the tweet, with some jokingly claiming to have identified the culprit while others simply asked for the $1 million reward.

The app requests permission to access a user's camera, microphone and location data, as well as their phone contacts and connections on Facebook. But cybersecurity researcher Lukas Stefanko said it was not possible for the service to access third-party apps.

"I believe they have to act quickly and there isn't much they can do about it to protect their brand," Stefanko, a malware researcher at cybersecurity firm ESET, told CNBC. "There is no evidence that Houseparty is connected to all these different hacked accounts."

Houseparty said it started to suspect attempted sabotage after its own investigation into talk of a hack on social media "found that many of the original tweets spreading this claim have been deleted and we've noticed Twitter accounts suspended."

"It's a disheartening situation for a service like ours that's bringing people much needed face-to-face social connections and empathy at a critical time," a Houseparty spokesperson said.

The app has soared in popularity in recent weeks as the coronavirus pandemic has forced people around the world to shelter in place and adhere to strict social distancing measures.

Unlike Zoom, another popular video chat app, Houseparty is mainly used for socializing with friends and family. It comes with a number of games and quizzes aimed at keeping users engaged.