Threads attracts 30M users in 24 hours despite design flaws, privacy concerns

Threads attracts 30M users in 24 hours despite design flaws, privacy concerns
Written by Techbot

“All your Threads are belong to us” —

FTC requires Meta to make it easy for users to control data.

Threads attracts 30M users in 24 hours despite design flaws, privacy concerns

Meta has officially launched its surprisingly popular Twitter alternative, Threads—shocking even Mark Zuckerberg as sign-ups hit 30 million within the first 24 hours. Though a separate app, Threads is built as a convenient extension of Instagram, requiring an Instagram account to join and allowing users to port their entire Instagram following over in one click. That has clearly made Threads appealing to a huge chunk of Instagram users.

“We didn’t expect tens of millions of people to sign up in one day, but supporting that is a champagne problem,” Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri said in a cheery update on Thursday.

With its well-timed launch coming just after Twitter announced unpopular rate limits on tweets, Threads has quickly surpassed ChatGPT as the fastest-growing consumer app, TechCrunch reported. But as sign-ups explode, Threads is also experiencing immediate backlash from critics who have complained about how Threads was designed and about the app’s seemingly ample privacy issues.

The most annoying thing about Threads might be that you cannot delete an account without deleting the linked Instagram account.

“You may deactivate your Threads profile at any time, but your Threads profile can only be deleted by deleting your Instagram account,” the Threads Supplemental Privacy Policy says. For more details, a Meta spokesperson linked Ars to Mosseri’s Threads post, which said:

I’ve been getting some questions about deleting your account. To clarify, you can deactivate your Threads account, which hides your Threads profile and content, you can set your profile to private, and you can delete individual Threads posts – all without deleting your Instagram account. Threads is powered by Instagram, so right now it’s just one account, but we’re looking into a way to delete your Threads account separately.

Another big complaint is that there is no dedicated feed to see only content from accounts that users actually follow. Some users have complained that their feeds are flooded with content from accounts they never followed, seemingly outnumbering posts from friends.

In a blog post, Meta touted this default feed as a feature, saying, “Your feed on Threads includes threads posted by people you follow and recommended content from new creators you haven’t discovered yet.”

Since then, Mosseri and Zuckerberg have both indicated on social media that Meta could update the app in the future to provide a dedicated feed of material from accounts that users follow.

Other features that could be coming soon include “support for editing posts, a translation option for different languages, and options to switch between different Threads accounts,” The Verge reported. Most notably, Threads will soon be compatible with ActivityPub, which would make Threads interoperable with other apps. That would allow users to engage cross-app with others or even leave Threads and port their content and followers to other platforms. Meta’s blog, describing this decentralized approach to building an app, said:

We’re committed to giving you more control over your audience on Threads—our plan is to work with ActivityPub to provide you the option to stop using Threads and transfer your content to another service. Our vision is that people using compatible apps will be able to follow and interact with people on Threads without having a Threads account, and vice versa, ushering in a new era of diverse and interconnected networks.

For now, users can control what they see by restricting who can reply to their Threads posts or mention them in replies. As on Instagram, users agree to follow the same community guidelines and can hide certain words to filter out undesirable replies. And one benefit of logging in with the same Instagram account is that Threads will ensure that any account blocked on Instagram is also blocked on Threads.

While Threads is considered part of an Instagram account, any content moderation actions that Meta takes against a Threads user will not impact their Instagram account, The Verge reported, based on a review of internal documents from Meta. However, exceptions could be made in extreme cases, like for users sharing child exploitation materials.

Privacy concerns, potential FTC scrutiny

Meta plans to keep updating the app and appears to be closely monitoring user feedback during its rollout. So far, that feedback includes privacy complaints that set Threads apart from Twitter in a seemingly less desirable way.

“All your Threads are belong to us,” Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey tweeted, along with a screenshot showing all the sensitive data that Threads collects. Twitter owner Elon Musk amplified the tweet by responding simply, “Yeah.”

Threads collects so much sensitive data that Meta paused the app’s launch in the European Union. The company recently lost a legal fight with EU regulators, who decided that Meta can no longer claim it has a “legitimate interest” to process wide swaths of user data for advertising. Calli Schroeder, senior counsel and global privacy counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), told Ars that Threads gathers “a good amount” of data that “is not necessary for the app to function.”

Data collected by Threads can include users’ sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, biometric data, trade union membership, pregnancy status, politics, and religious beliefs. Threads can also collect data on users’ employment, as well as health and fitness. Beyond that, the app also can collect data monitoring users’ location and other web activity.

“Health and financial data, precise location, search history, browsing history, and more are not needed for a user to be on the app and are instead used to create a more hyper-personalized and targeted experience on the app or shared with and sold to advertisers,” Schroeder told Ars.

All of these privacy concerns are red flags in the EU, where users must give consent before sensitive data can be collected, Quartz reported. Schroeder said that the concerns could also be considered red flags by users anywhere who are aware of Meta’s “history of concerning privacy practices” and who might otherwise choose to opt out of such extensive data collection. Because of these concerns, it’s possible that Threads will never be offered in the EU, TechCrunch reported.

“Incoming EU regulations entirely bar using sensitive data for ads,” Schroeder told Ars, in reference to the Digital Markets Act.

Meta may run into trouble with Threads in the US, too, Schroeder said. Meta is currently under a consent decree from the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), under which it’s possible that Meta’s decision to link Threads accounts to Instagram accounts could be considered a violation or an “unfair or deceptive” practice because it potentially obscures what steps a user must take to control their data.

“It looks like Threads automatically links with a user’s Instagram account and a user can’t delete Threads without also deleting the Instagram,” Schroeder told Ars. “This may violate Meta’s consent order with the FTC, which bars Meta from misrepresenting the privacy or security of covered data, including the extent to which a consumer can control the privacy of the information and the steps they have to take to maintain control.”

Of all the Twitter alternatives popping up, Schroeder cautioned that Threads may have the most privacy concerns.

“Threads is one of the most privacy-invasive options we’ve seen,” Schroeder told Ars. “Users wanting to ditch Twitter can absolutely still do so but may have to pick a better alternative than Threads (and consider whether they want to trust Elon or Zuckerberg with their personal data).”

In a Threads post, Zuckerberg took a light jab at Twitter while optimistically predicting that Threads could become the first online public square that attracts a billion users—which was Musk’s target for Twitter to hit by 2024.

“I think there should be a public conversations app with 1 billion+ people on it,” Zuckerberg posted on Threads. “Twitter has had the opportunity to do this but hasn’t nailed it. Hopefully we will.”

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