To Threads or Not to Threads? That is The Privacy Question

To Threads or Not to Threads? That is The Privacy Question

Authored by Alanna Titterington

As you’ve probably heard, Mark Zuckerberg has launched a Twitter competitor that goes by the name of Threads. So, let’s have a look at how things are with privacy there.

What is Threads and how does it operate?

Threads is not a fully independent social network. Technically, it’s a continuation of Instagram, hived off into a separate app. To use most of the features in Threads, you’ll need an Instagram account: It will form the basis of your Threads profile.

The Threads app itself is uncannily Twitter-esque. Viewing the two apps side by side, it’s easy to mix them up once the bird icon or Zuckerberg’s squiggly shoelace scroll off the screen.

As for posts, these can be read in the Threads app or on the web version threads.net (not to be confused with the site threads.com, which belongs to the developers of a corporate messenger similar to Slack). But using the site is, to put it mildly, inconvenient: there’s no feed, no search, and just the option to follow direct links to someone’s profile or individual posts (which you still have to rummage around for). Basically, if you’ve ever tried using the Instagram website, you understand what we’re talking about.

Posting in Threads without the app isn’t possible at all. For one thing, the site doesn’t even have a sign-in button; the main page offers a “Get the app” message and links to Google Play and the App Store, plus a QR code. Thus, there’s nothing doing without both the app and an Instagram account (at least for now — more about that below).

Scammers already love Threads

Being such a modest website in terms of functionality, Threads is a gift to scammers. Our experts have already discovered phishing pages imitating the web version of the social network and collecting users’ logins and passwords — which match at least the login data for Instagram.

In addition, so-called “Threads Coin” is already being sold for cryptocurrency on the Web. And it seems like even its creators don’t fully understand the purpose of these coins, vaguely promising to “connect users to the Metaverse”.

Finally, another scam promises to generate tens of thousands of followers for a freshly created Threads account. The obvious result of participating in any such schemes will only be the loss of money and personal data.

How much data does Threads collect?

All projects associated with Mark Zuckerberg are known for being excessively data-hungry. Perhaps only the omnipresent Google can rival the Zuckerberg empire when it comes to harvesting personal information.

Threads, it seems, is no exception: according to its App Store description, the social network collects all user data it can lay its hands on. However, there are a couple of nuances to bear in mind. First: the list of data collected is identical to Instagram’s.

Second: this list is written by the app developers themselves, so it doesn’t have to be completely true. And apparently, for now it lists some categories of data that Threads doesn’t request access to yet. For example, it mentions access to location, but, at the time of posting, the app doesn’t request that permission. This may change in the future, but for now that’s the way it is.

What about Twitter?

The social network Zuckerberg is trying to knock aside also hoovers up user data like there’s no tomorrow. Who knew?! Here’s the equivalent list for the Twitter app, kindly provided once again by the App Store. Take a look at what it wants:

On a separate note, we should mention that Twitter has worked hard these past few years to complicate interaction for users who don’t log in. As things stand, to read other people’s tweets, it’s advisable to have your own Twitter account — so in this sense, Musk’s bird is no better than Zuckerberg’s squiggle.

However, Twitter still has the edge (for now) — a fully-functional web version, which gives you a chance to fend off some of its data-grabbing practices by using a private browser.

Should Instagram users get a Threads profile?

As we said above, Threads and Instagram have the same permission list. So, if you already use Insta and aren’t too bothered by the amount of data Zuckerberg collects about you, don’t worry: the Threads app won’t harvest any new kinds of information. It will still read your posts, though.

There are plenty of scare stories doing the rounds right now that if Threads users want to leave it, they’ll lose their Instagram account too. Otherwise, allegedly, it will simply not be possible to delete the account from the Twitter analog. However, it’s important to understand here that there are no Threads accounts (deleting what doesn’t exist in the first place may indeed be tricky) — only Threads profiles linked to Instagram accounts. You can’t delete your profile, but you can deactivate it. After that, all app-based information will no longer be visible to other users. In practical terms, this differs little from deletion.

So, long story short, if you already use Instagram, there’s nothing to fear about creating a Threads profile. If you don’t like the app for some reason, you can deactivate your profile, and everything you published there will be hidden.

Is Instagram worth signing up to for Threads?

If you don’t have an Instagram account but have decided to get one to use Threads, you may want to reconsider; especially if your main reason for staying off Instagram all this time has been privacy.

The thing is that Threads promises the opportunity to enter the Fediverse (a decentralized association of independent social networks) using the ActivityPub protocol. This feature is operational yet, but Threads developers are reportedly planning to add it to the platform.

This means you’ll be able to post on Threads not only without creating a profile, but without having an Instagram account or even installing any app created by a Zuckerberg company. Instead, you’ll be able to use an alternative, less data-greedy social network account. But you need to wait for the feature to be implemented.

Alternatives to Twitter and Threads

The primary alternative to Threads and Twitter is Mastodon. This social network is already part of the Fediverse and supports ActivityPub (so in the future it will be possible to read and write Threads posts through it). Another important plus is that the Mastodon app collects hardly any user data at all. And there are lots of Mastodon client apps out there for you to choose from.

On top of that, journalists from Wired magazine suggest a few other Twitter and Threads alternatives: Bluesky, Hive Social and Spill. All of these microblogging platforms collect significantly less user data than either Threads or Twitter. However, they don’t offer ActivityPub support.

In our next post, we’ll talk about how you can improve privacy in Zuckerberg’s potential Twitter-killer for those who do decide to give Threads a whirl. Also, to secure your internet surfing, we recommend using a reliable VPN.

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