In mid-2019, Fortnite studio Epic Games acquired Houseparty for an undisclosed sum. No, not House Party (opens in new tab)—Houseparty (opens in new tab), a video chat application for mobile devices and PCs that was launched in early 2016. It doesn't sound like the most innovative piece of software ever conceived—up to eight users can take part in a single chat session, with notifications sent when friends come online—but it's experienced a big surge in popularity recently, as people look for new ways to stay in touch while in self-isolation. It's currently one of the most-downloaded apps on both the App Store and Google Play.
Earlier this month, however, rumors began to surface that Houseparty was somehow being used to "hack" into users' Netflix, PayPal, and Spotify accounts. According to The Independent (opens in new tab), the claims first appeared on Twitter, but have since spread to other platforms. Several of the tweets claiming that Houseparty was hacking into other accounts also said that the only way to avoid the problem is to delete it completely.
Houseparty, naturally, insisted that its accounts and service are safe: "The service is secure, has never been compromised, and doesn’t collect passwords for other sites," it tweeted (opens in new tab) yesterday.
Today, it took the matter a step further by suggesting that the hacking rumors are part of a deliberate effort to discredit and damage the company. It also offered a $1 million bounty to anyone who can provide proof that this is in fact happening.
We are investigating indications that the recent hacking rumors were spread by a paid commercial smear campaign to harm Houseparty. We are offering a $1,000,000 bounty for the first individual to provide proof of such a campaign to firstname.lastname@example.org.March 31, 2020
Epic Games, which said in a statement yesterday that it has "found no evidence to suggest a link between Houseparty and the compromises of other unrelated accounts," confirmed that the bounty is legitimate.
"Our investigation found that many of the original tweets spreading this claim have been deleted and we've noticed Twitter accounts suspended," it said. "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."
Working against Epic is the fact that it's already subject to some distrust among a small section of gamers, due to the 40 percent stake that Chinese conglomerate Tencent holds in the company. Epic and CEO Tim Sweeney have repeatedly debunked (opens in new tab) the claim—and Epic is hardly the only game company Tencent has invested in (opens in new tab)—but like all good conspiracy theories, it never really goes away.
Houseparty is part of Epic. I'm the controlling shareholder. Tencent is an investor among many others. Tencent and other investors have no access to Epic or Houseparty customer data.March 31, 2020
Epic also urged people to use strong, unique passwords for their online accounts, ideally with a password generator or manager.