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Threads: will privacy fears scupper Meta’s Twitter ‘killer’?

Meta has launched Threads, a text-based app to rival Twitter, in a “bold attempt to lure users away from its floundering competitor”, said Kari Paul in The Guardian.

This is a “near-clone of the platform”, said the tech reporter, from a company known for its “shameless copying of competitors’ apps”.

Mark Zuckerberg’s new project has “big potential, thanks to its polished tech, built-in user base, and reputation for better moderation”, said Wired, but faces a “long slog” to actually “kill Twitter”, the current microblogging platform of choice.

Threads has attracted more than 100 million users in less than a week, but the app has not yet launched in the European Union, because of the strict privacy standards there.

What is Threads and why did Meta launch it?

“Threads is Twitter in all but name. It looks the same, feeding the same endorphins by encouraging the same jostle for public approval,” wrote Paul Flynn in the London Evening Standard.

The “eerily Twitter-like microblogging experience” includes features that let you “like, repost, reply to or quote a ‘thread’”, added Kari Paul in The Guardian, alongside “counters showing the number of likes and replies” a post has accrued. Using Threads “felt like a fever dream in which Twitter and Instagram had a more usable brain child”, with a “slick” feed that’s “easy to read”.

And it arrived “at a particularly weak moment” for Elon Musk’s Twitter, after a move to limit free Twitter accounts to viewing 600 tweets per day “was met with derision”, said Wired.

What are the privacy concerns around Threads?

Despite being “the most rapidly downloaded app ever”, many people have “voiced concern about privacy”, wrote Kate O’Flaherty in Forbes. After all, “everyone knows how much data Meta collects and uses to profile people”.

“Threads collects a lot of data,” and according to its privacy label, it collects “data linked to you” including location, health and fitness information, browsing history, “sensitive information” and search history. The data gathered also includes contact information such as email, phone number and postal address.

Data such as search history and browsing history “can also be used for advertising and marketing and ‘personalisation’”, or “showing you ads” in other words, said O’Flaherty. Threads “isn’t showing ads just yet”, but “make no mistake, with this amount of lucrative data available, it will”. On the face of it, this level of data collection “is a horror show”, but “isn’t any worse than Instagram”.

Can Meta overcome the EU’s objections?

Threads is not available in the EU, “which has set strict privacy standards that the app may not meet”, said Wired.

Meta is “waiting for more guidance” around “new EU competition rules that govern how large online platforms use their marketing power”, known as the Digital Markets Act (DMA), added Bloomberg. The European Commission is “currently discussing the regulations with companies” and “more guidance” is expected in September.

Under DMA rules, companies that have “self-designated themselves as “gatekeepers”, will potentially be subject “to stricter regulations around data sharing and giving preference to their own products”. In particular, companies are banned from combining users’ personal data across different platforms.

If you delete the app, “you also have to delete Instagram”, said O’Flaherty in Forbes. You can deactivate Threads, “but that doesn’t delete your account”. Similarly, when users deactivate Facebook, “the social network can still track them across services”.

Meta won’t launch Threads in the EU “for the foreseeable future”, said The Irish Independent. Regulators “have not actively blocked the service”, though, rather Meta “has not prepared the service” to launch outside the UK, in territories “governed by GDPR or EU privacy rules”. It is “unclear when, or if, Meta will launch Threads” in the EU.

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