Meta, the parent company of Facebook, recently launched its Twitter competitor called Threads. The app gained attention for its potential to work with decentralized platforms, offering users more control over their data, the main benefit of decentralization. While Meta-owned apps are notorious for collecting user data for targeted ads and personalized marketing, Threads presents an alternative that may appeal to those concerned about data privacy. However, a unique aspect of Threads is Meta’s plan to make it interoperable with other non-Meta social networks that support the ActivityPub decentralized protocol, potentially allowing users to access Threads content without signing up.
The data collection concern
Observers who discovered Threads’ placeholder listing on the Apple App Store were taken aback by the app’s extensive data collection practices. Even as a new app, Threads listed 14 categories of data that could be collected and linked to users’ identities. This level of data collection aligns with Meta’s monetization strategy, which relies on selling targeted ads and personalized marketing. Meta’s other apps, such as Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, also disclose extensive categories of data collection. However, for individuals seeking an alternative to Twitter’s platform and concerns over data privacy, Meta’s Threads might offer a more predictable and stable experience.
Decentralization and its implications
Meta’s embrace of decentralization, specifically through ActivityPub support in Threads, has significant implications for users who are concerned about data privacy. ActivityPub facilitates federated services, similar to how phones and email work across different providers. Users join a server and trust it with their data while still being able to communicate with other servers running the same protocol. This model enables users to choose servers based on their data practices, promoting competition and encouraging platforms to provide less exploitative services. Decentralization does not eliminate access to user data by servers or potential vulnerabilities, but it offers users the option to select providers that prioritize privacy and security.
The beauty of the fediverse lies in options for users
As Threads gains traction within the federated universe, concerns arise about “social graph slurping.” Meta will have visibility into the interactions and connections of Threads users within the platform and potentially across the broader “fediverse”. The fediverse (a portmanteau of “federation” and “universe”) is an ensemble of federated (i.e. interconnected) servers that are used for web publishing (i.e. social networking, microblogging, blogging, or websites) and file hosting, which, while independently hosted, can communicate with each other.
This expansive view of interactions beyond Meta’s borders could raise privacy concerns for some users. However, the beauty of the fediverse lies in the ability to choose between platforms. Users who prefer Meta’s ecosystem can join Threads, while those who want to avoid it can opt for other fediverse servers or explore platforms like Bluesky, which are developing their own vision of a decentralized social network.
Understanding server choice and data control
Regardless of the chosen platform, it is essential to recognize that the selected server will still have access to user data, even if other servers do not. By implementing ActivityPub, Threads positions Meta as the server for users interacting with the fediverse through the app. Users who run their own servers retain full control over their data, while those using third-party servers must remain vigilant about future changes. As the business models of decentralized services evolve, users should monitor potential shifts in user monitoring or data-tracking practices. However, the portability inherent in the fediverse allows users to switch servers while maintaining their connections, offering flexibility and control.
Meta’s Threads presents an alternative to Twitter that promises decentralization and increased control over user data. By supporting the ActivityPub protocol, Meta aims to make Threads interoperable with other non-Meta social networks. This move empowers users to access Threads content without signing up for the platform, allowing those concerned about data privacy to engage with the app on their terms. While decentralization does not eliminate all privacy concerns, users can select servers based on their data practices. The flexibility and portability of the fediverse enable users to choose the platform that aligns best with their values and needs, putting them in control of their social networking experience.