Threads: Meta’s Planned Twitter Killer Raises Privacy Concerns
Meta’s planned Twitter killer, Threads, isn’t yet publicly available but it already looks like a privacy nightmare.
Threads, an upcoming app by Meta (formerly known as Facebook), is facing scrutiny over its potential privacy implications. Mandatory iOS disclosures reveal that the app may collect highly sensitive information about users, including health and financial data, precise location, browsing history, contacts, search history, and other sensitive information.
Meta, known for tracking and profiling web users to sell their attention through behavioral advertising tools, is relying on the legal basis of “legitimate interest” for processing user data. However, recent court judgments in the European Union have questioned the appropriateness of this legal basis for running behavioral ads, emphasizing the need for explicit consent. The General Data Protection Regulation also requires explicit consent for processing sensitive information like health data.
Moreover, upcoming EU regulations are set to ban the use of sensitive data for ads and may require explicit consent for data profiling. With stricter regulations looming, Meta’s business model of data farming and profiling may face significant challenges.
Currently, Meta does not provide users with a general option to deny tracking and profiling. This lack of user choice, combined with the potential violation of GDPR requirements, further complicates Threads’ prospects in the EU.
Adding to Meta’s legal concerns, it recently received an order to stop sending EU users’ data to the US for processing and was fined almost $1.3 billion for breaching GDPR’s data export rules. If Meta does not prioritize user privacy, it may face further consequences.
Threads’ association with Instagram instead of Meta’s rebranded image hints at its attempt to leverage Instagram’s user base for a quick adoption of the app. However, whether this rebranding has successfully improved Meta’s corporate image remains questionable.
Despite various reports suggesting that Threads won’t launch in the EU due to legal uncertainties, the Irish Data Protection Commission clarified that it has not prevented Meta from launching Threads. Meta seems to be concerned about the legal risks associated with the upcoming Digital Markets Act (DMA) and its restrictions on sharing user data across platforms.
The DMA, enforceable by the European Commission, signifies a shift towards stricter enforcement on digital giants within the EU. This adds to the legal ambiguity Meta already faces in the region.
While Threads is set to launch in the UK, where its legal obligations differ post-Brexit, Meta may have a different perspective on legal risks. The UK’s data protection regime still aligns with GDPR requirements, but the local watchdog, Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), has been criticized for its inaction toward surveillance advertising industry breaches. Thus, Meta might perceive a lower legal risk in the UK.
In contrast, Meta has faced hefty fines in the EU, including a recent fine of over $410 million for running behavioral ads on Facebook and Instagram without a valid legal basis. With the potential for even higher penalties under the DMA, the enforcement landscape may become more challenging for tech giants like Meta.
Overall, Meta’s compliance with EU laws and regulations would require a significant overhaul of its operations, which Threads does not seem to address. This raises doubts about the app’s future in the EU, unless Meta takes user choice and privacy seriously.
As of now, Meta has not confirmed its plans to launch Threads in the EU.