Like Bluesky, Mastodon, Spill and others, Threads aims to rival a very vulnerable Twitter.
By now, all of your group chats are likely blowing up over the Wednesday launch of Meta’s new Threads app. In fact, Meta co-founder Mark Zuckerbergwrote that in just 24 hours, over 30 million users had joined the social media platform, which aims to rival Twitter.
But the sign-up process for Threads has prompted many people to question Meta’s data collection policies, and some are avoiding the app altogether as a result.
“The data collection page for Threads is longer than a CVS receipt,” wrote one Twitter user. Here’s what you need to know.
Threads is hoping to rival Twitter.
Meta descriptions Threads as “Instagram’s text-based conversation app” — as opposed to Instagram itself, which is full of photos with captions and temporary visual stories. Threads are very similar to Twitter, which Zuckerberg said is the point.
Its launch came after a rough year and particularly rough weekend for Twitter, during which many users found themselves limited to view 600 posts per day and unable to access their feeds. This prompted derivation from Twitter users and even more enthusiasm than usual for a platform that could serve as a replacement. (Unsurprisingly, Twitter owner Elon Musk, a personal rival of Zuckerberg, doesn’t seem pleased by the stiff competition.)
Back on Threads, Zuckerberg wrote: “It’ll take some time, but I think there should be a public conversation app with 1 billion+ people on it. Twitter has had the opportunity to do this but hasn’t nailed it. Hopefully we will.”
Here’s how Threads is different — and similar.
At the moment, Threads is app-only, so there isn’t a desktop version. Also, you need to have an Instagram account to use it. You can download Threads for iPhones or Androids and then use your Instagram login to get started. Threads will assign you the same username you have for Instagram, given that the accounts are linked. There’s no option to change it, although you can add a different photo, bio and external website address.
The app will offer to automatically follow your existing list of Instagram contacts on Threads, or you can choose to manually follow other users. There’s also an option to make your account public or private, just like on Instagram or Twitter, so you can choose which users see your content.
Thread posts can be up to 500 characters or up to five minutes of video. And similar to Twitter, you can like, comment on, and share others’ posts. But Twitter, you can’t send different direct messages to other users or search hashtags for interesting topics and discussions.
According to Meta, you cannot delete your Threads account without also deleting your Instagram account. But you can deactivate your Threads account and temporarily hide your profile from other users, and then reactivate it by logging back in.
So why are people concerned about data?
It is common to sign up for a new platform without understanding how your sensitive information will be treated. Threads’ listings in app stores show all the seemingly unconnected data you allow it to collect by signing up — data it will link to your specific identity, building a profile of you, your habits and your personal details.
In app stores, you can see what sort of data Threads may collect to build a profile of your information and habits.
The data security implications for Threads are the same as those for Instagram, according to Aaron Mendes, CEO and co-founder of PrivacyHawk, a privacy app that aims to make opting out, unsubscribing and deleting data more efficient.
Depending on how you use Meta’s apps, the company can access and gather almost everything about you. According to the Apple app store, this includes your health information, location, shopping purchases, financial data, pregnancy or childbirth information, sexual or gender preferences, income, browsing history, contacts and “other data,” which could be anything.
However, Threads is at odds with multi-jurisdictional privacy frameworks. Although it operates in the United States, it does not currently meet data privacy requirements in places like the European Union, so it isn’t allowed to launch there.
“In the US, Meta is able to collect this data on Instagram and Threads users whenever they want,” Mendes said. “In the EU, they are limited to asking for permission to access and use some of this data. At the moment, it appears they are unable to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation … and will not launch in Europe.”
According to Mendes, there are a number of reasons why Threads does not comply with GDPR or requirements set out by the Digital Markets Act, the EU’s new competition regulation. But to put it simply, GDPR requires affirmative consent at the time of data collection, meaning that a user must give clear, specific and informed consent on how their personal data should be processed. Threads don’t do this.
Meta has always scared me when it comes to privacy. Threads … is digging in as deeply as possible to the treasure trove that is personal information.Chris Hauk, consumer privacy advocate
Can my data be misused or sold?
The short answer is yes. The biggest threats to personal security are data breaches, which have impacted companies like Meta and led them to pay exorbitant fines.
Mendes noted that users should not trust any organization with their sensitive information, because there are frequent data breaches that they cannot control.
“Facebook has been breached many times,” he said, referring to another Meta platform. “Even with the best intentions, organizations are massively targeting hackers, cyberterrorists, government surveillance, and they have demonstrated that they are a data business. They monetize our data. We are the product, and they do the bare minimum to stay within the law.”
A breach could result in stolen identity, financial loss, fraud and various other scams if the data ends up with hackers or cybercriminals. Even though it’s not possible to predict when a breach will occur, one best practice is to limit the data that you give to organizations in the first place.
Meta in particular has a dicey history with its handling of data. Facebook’s user data was improperly harvested by the political consultancy Cambridge Analytica ahead of the 2016 election, with that information then used to target and mislead voters. similarly, in 2019, Facebook was hit with a record $5 billion penalty by the US Federal Trade Commission for deceiving users about the ability they had to control the privacy of their personal info. Recent court records suggest that employees at Meta aren’t sure where all its data is stored, who exactly can access it, or what engineers are doing with it.
According to Chris Hauka consumer privacy advocate at Pixel PrivacyMeta cannot be trusted with user information and how it is used.
“Meta exists to collect as much information as it can about its users and then sell that information to anyone able to pay the asking price,” Hauk said. “Threads likely won’t add a huge amount of new information about Instagram users, since most users will have already belonged to Instagram and Facebook, but it will harvest more data, and none of us are really sure how that new information will be used .”
Can my sensitive information be protected?
According to Mendes, Threads users do not have to hand over a lot of the sensitive information that the app tries to collect. For instance, he said that Threads does not need access to a person’s photos, contacts, health information, location data or other sensitive info unless they want to use a feature that requires them, but most people don’t.
For example, it is recommended that users immediately turn off access to photos once they have finished uploading a picture. Though Mendes acknowledged that it isn’t exactly convenient to constantly switch access on and off, it is a good way to safeguard sensitive information from Meta.
If you change your mind and want to delete your Threads profile, you’ll have to delete your entire Instagram account, too.
Mendes said that in addition to controlling your phone’s privacy settings and denying data access that Meta requests, you can also use ad-blocking tools like Adblock Plus or Ghostery that makes it harder for the company to track you around the internet. Plus, apps like PrivacyHawk can reduce your digital footprint outside of these platforms. Then, if there is a breach, your data is less likely to be used for scams, fraud or identity theft.
What should parents should know before their kids join Threads?
The app is open to users over the age of 12. But for anyone under 16, Threads says it will, like Instagram, keep their profile private by default.
“Assess whether the app aligns with your family’s privacy expectations and values, and evaluates any potential risks including user-generated content, public posts, or interactions with strangers,” Shadabi said, noting how children can be protected. “Parents should teach them how to set their profile to private, limit who can view their posts or content, and how to manage friend or follower requests.”
It’s also important that children are aware of how to identify potential risks and immediately report any suspicious or malicious activity on the platform. Social media use and increased online exposure can sometimes be scary, so it’s critical to maintain an open line of communication and to know when to stop using a platform.
Here’s the bottom line.
Hauk cautioned all users to examine how their sensitive information is being collected and to be careful when using social media platforms that ask for data access.
“Meta has always scared me when it comes to privacy,” Hauk said. “Threads, like any other Meta product or app, are digging in as deeply as possible to the treasure trove that is personal information.”