Meta has officially launched its surprisingly popular Twitter alternative, Threads. Even Mark Zuckerberg was shocked when there were 30 million applications within the first 24 hours. Although a separate app, Threads is built as a handy extension of Instagram, requiring an Instagram account to join and allowing users to transfer their entire Instagram followers with one click. That has clearly made Threads attractive to a large segment 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 Thursday.
With its well-timed launch just after Twitter announced unpopular speed limits on tweets, Threads has quickly surpassed ChatGPT as the fastest-growing consumer app, TechCrunch reported. But as signups explode, Threads is also experiencing immediate backlash from critics who have complained about how Threads is designed and the app’s seemingly major privacy concerns.
Perhaps the most annoying thing about Threads is that you cannot delete an account without deleting the associated Instagram account.
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 individually.
Another big complaint is that there is no dedicated feed to only see content from accounts that users actually follow. Some users have complained that their feeds are flooded with content from accounts they never followed, seemingly more than messages 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 featured content from new creators you haven’t discovered yet.”
Since then, Mosseri and Zuckerberg have both indicated on social media that Meta may update the app in the future to provide a dedicated feed of material from accounts users follow.
Other features that could be coming soon include “post editing support, a translation option for different languages, and options to switch between different Threads accounts,” The Verge reported. Notably, Threads will soon be compatible with ActivityPub, making Threads interoperable with other apps. That would allow users to connect with others cross-app 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 are committed to giving you more control over your audience on Threads. Our plan is to partner with ActivityPub to give you the option to stop using Threads and transfer your content to another service. Our vision is that people using compatible apps can 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 limiting who can comment on their Threads posts or mention them in replies. Like on Instagram, users agree to follow the same community guidelines and can hide certain words to filter out unwanted replies. And one advantage of logging in with the same Instagram account is that Threads ensures that any account blocked on Instagram will also be blocked on Threads.
While Threads is considered part of an Instagram account, any content moderation actions Meta takes against a Threads user will not affect their Instagram account, The Verge reported, based on a review of Meta’s internal documents . However, exceptions can be made in extreme cases, such as for users sharing child exploitation material.
Privacy issues, possible FTC investigation
Meta plans to keep updating the app and appears to be paying close attention to user feedback throughout the rollout. So far, that feedback includes privacy complaints that set Threads apart from Twitter in a seemingly less desirable way.
“All your threads are ours,” says Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey tweeted, along with a screenshot of all sensitive data that Threads collects. Twitter owner Elon Musk amplified the tweet comment simply: “Yes.”
Threads collects so much sensitive data that Meta decided to pause the app’s launch in the European Union. The company recently lost a legal battle with EU regulators, who ruled that Meta can no longer claim it has a “legitimate interest” in processing large amounts of user data for advertising. Calli Schroeder, senior counsel and global privacy counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), told Ars that Threads collects “a good amount” of data that is “not necessary for the app to function.”
Information collected by Threads may include users’ sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, biometrics, union membership, pregnancy status, politics and religious beliefs. Threads can also collect data about users’ employment, as well as health and fitness. In addition, the app may also collect data about users’ location and other web activities.
“Health and financial data, precise location, search history, browsing history and more are not necessary 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 the concerns could also be seen as red flags by users everywhere who know about Meta’s “history of privacy practices” and who might otherwise choose to forego such extensive data collection. Due to these concerns, Threads may never be offered in the EU, TechCrunch reported.
“Incoming EU regulations completely prohibit the use of sensitive data for advertising,” Schroeder told Ars, referring to the Digital Markets Act.
Meta could run into trouble with Threads in the US as well, Schroeder said. Meta is currently under a consent decree from the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), under which it is possible that Meta’s decision to link Threads accounts to Instagram accounts could be considered a violation or an “unfair or deceptive” practice , as it may obscure what steps a user should take to verify their data.
“It appears that Threads is automatically associated with a user’s Instagram account and a user cannot delete Threads without also deleting Instagram,” Schroeder told Ars. “This may violate Meta’s consent order with the FTC, which prevents 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 must 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 who want to leave Twitter can absolutely still do so, but may need to choose 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 joke at Twitter as he optimistically predicted that Threads could become the first online public square to attract a billion users — which Musk’s goal was for Twitter to reach by 2024.
“I think there should be a public conversation app with over 1 billion people on it,” Zuckerberg wrote on Threads. “Twitter had a chance to do this, but it didn’t get it right. Hopefully we will.”