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Protecting user privacy on Meta’s new app, Threads

Threads launched in more than 100 countries on July 6, 2023; but not the European Union due to privacy concerns tied to two recent rulings.

Threads is Meta's rival to Twitter
Threads is Meta's rival to Twitter - Copyright AFP/File Amir MAKAR
Threads is Meta's rival to Twitter - Copyright AFP/File Amir MAKAR

Instagramers signing up for Threads, Meta’s response to Twitter, need to be aware of the app’s data collection capabilities, says a Virginia Tech privacy expert.

According to Donna Wertalik: “Threads collects user data across 25 different categories, surpassing Twitter’s data collection capabilities.”

Wertalik is a professor of practice in marketing for the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech and Voices of Privacy co-host.

For more than a decade, Wertalik’s research has focused on the growing importance of information privacy. Wertalik is watching Threads closely and says the current state of the app is akin to Twitter in 2007.

Meta says it wasn't given enough time to comply with the Norwegian order to stop using behavioural marketing without user consent
Meta says it wasn’t given enough time to comply with the Norwegian order to stop using behavioural marketing without user consent – Copyright AFP/File COLE BURSTON

Since the social media platform is so new, there are inevitably privacy concerns – specifically when it comes to personal data. Wertalik warns that all information is fair game for Meta.

Threads launched in more than 100 countries on July 6, 2023; but not the European Union due to privacy concerns tied to two recent rulings. Some of the data Meta can collect on its users includes location, contact information, contacts, user content (photos, videos, messages), search history, and purchase history.

Wertalik advise those signing up to the app to understand what they are signing up for and how they can protect their privacy. Wertalik’s specific advice is:

Decide whether to make your account public or private

This allows the user to control who sees their content.

Understand Threads policy for deleting your account

Meta’s policy prohibits users from deleting their Threads profile without also deleting their Instagram account. Most apps you can delete, and Wertalik says a policy that forces the consumer to delete both has never been done: “Perhaps this is Meta’s way of having more control and strategies toward future monetization for Threads.”

Walk through all settings in the app

This will allow the user to in some cases limit what data is collected by the company and third party users. There are seven settings that limit what you see on the app. Two of them limit accessibility to your posted content by other users. Since the app is connected to Instagram, your privacy choices should apply there too.

Meta chief Mark Zuckerberg says he is seeing strong engagement across the tech firm's apps, including its freshly launched Threads that challenges the social media platform formerly known as Twitter
Meta chief Mark Zuckerberg says he is seeing strong engagement across the tech firm’s apps, including its freshly launched Threads that challenges the social media platform formerly known as Twitter — © AFP

Wertalik and her colleague France Bélanger operate Voices of Privacy, a digital initiative which uses video episodes and other resources to raise general awareness of information privacy issues and educate individuals so they can make informed choices when it comes to protecting their information on different platforms like the web, social media and smartphones.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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