Thursday, 06 July 2023 12:40

Let’s Talk a Minute About Meta’s Threads and the Data it Wants

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Yesterday (July 5, 2023) Social Networking Giant, Meta launched their competitor to Twitter. This new app is a companion app to Instagram called threads. Ironically, Twitter had a lot of buzz about the new app including from people that routinely talk about how terrible Twitter is under Elon Musk. These Twitter detractors have been posting count down timers, information on how to ensure you can be on threads as soon as it launches and more. It is interesting, if not a bit funny, to see the dialog there. However, there is a very dark cloud (heavy black and pendulous) over the green pastures of Meta’s Threads. This is the very serious concern about Privacy and Security.

You see Meta’s Threads wants significant access to user data. The list of information gathered by Threads is shocking and while much of it is optional, the fact that Threads can collect this information and is this integrated into your device is a bit of a concern. As an example, there is an option for Threads to gather your financial information. This information includes payment information, purchase history, credit score, and “other financial information”. Meta provides why they collect this and to what use it is put, but much of their reasoning does not make sense. For example, the list fraud prevention and compliance as a reason for wanting to collect your credit score. This makes absolutely no sense as having access to your credit score has nothing to do with compliance in any financial sense. Compliance does come into play with how they handle that information as the collection of this type of data puts them on the radar for regulatory bodies like NYDFS, CFPB, GDPR, and many others. This is just one concerning example of optional data collection that Meta is pushing. There is other data collected that is mandatory that is just as concerning.

Screenshot 20230706 093729 Google Play Store

Under App Activity, Meta wants to gather App Interactions, In-App Search History, gather a list of Installed Apps on the device, and the very vague “Other Actions”. There is an optional (looks like Opt-Out) bit of data collected that is “Other user-generated content”. This optional bit of data collection is likely to view information from other social media applications just to understand how the user bases uses social media. This would allow Meta to improve their product based on that information. It could also be as bad as Threads being able to ingest information from ANY application on the device. This would mean emails, SMS/Text messages, Word, Teams, Photo and Video editing Apps, etc. If this is the case, then it is likely that Meta is looking to wholesale ingest data from its user base for their own AI. It is a sneaky way of teaching their model using a very heavily used object, it may also violate more than a few laws and regulations. Thread also collects all Web Browsing history (again they claim fraud prevention and compliance.)

Screenshot 20230706 093656 Google Play Store

Overall, the volume and types of data collected are way more than any social media app needs and should be asking to collect. This mass data collection should be of concern coming from any company. Given that this is Meta, a company that has been found guilty of improper data collection and handling, censorship, improper social experiments via information manipulation and more, it becomes a significant concern from a privacy perspective. From a security perspective the app has enough permissions that there are likely attack vectors that could allow an attacker to gain access to all the data that Threads can collect. The two combined raise concerns not just on a personal level, but also at the business level. Phones are the largest BYOD footprint in the world, yet they are far too often overlooked when it comes to security with few organizations enforcing any type of EDR, data restrictions etc. This means that any person that is using Threads on their phone that doubles as a work device is leaking business information to Meta.

What is Zuckerberg and his team up to with Threads? We might never know the whole truth, but it is clear that they want as much data as they can get. Some of the types of data collected make no sense in the context of a social media app. The financial information in particular is odd unless we might see “The Bank of Zuckerberg” in the future, Meta is looking to really up their Ad Game, or they are working on a social credit system that involves your credit scores and financial information. The possibilities for gathering this can get a bit crazy if you go too far down the rabbit hole. Personally, I think they want the data just because they want the data. Data is power and data is money to the right company. They can parley their way into a lot with the information they are scraping.

With the resurgence of Twitter under Musk, it was not surprising to see Zuckerberg want to push out his own version of Twitter. What is a bit surprising is that they went with a new app instead of just allowing this functionality via Instagram. In real terms, Meta could have extended Instagram on its own to have the same features as Threads. What they could not do is quietly extend the amount of data they collect from users without raising red flags. By creating a new app, they can stuff it full of data collection opportunities which are likely to be missed by people eager for another app to stare at and read the same things from. As of this writing, more than 1 million people have downloaded the app and out of 4,000 reviews it has a 4.5-star rating, but no actual reviews of the product yet. The rating is likely to drop as there are already reports of accounts being flagged as posting misinformation and posts being taken down for the same reasons. Facebook and Instagram already have a reputation for censoring differing opinions while leaving up questionable content so it only seems reasonable that Threads would act in the same manner. Reasonable, but disappointing.

Threads is not going to be a Twitter Killer. Even if all of the Elon haters left there are still enough people that will remain on Twitter with the changes that have been implemented to ensure that Twitter stays alive and healthy. But we all know that people disparaging Elon will not leave as they need a place to express their opinions about him, the platform, Tesla, SpaceX, etc. where Elon and other Twitter users can see. This means that numbers for Twitter will remain pretty much the same as they are including interaction while Threads is likely to enjoy some early adoption excitement and then could fall by the wayside after a few months. Either way Zuck will get his data and Twitter will be just fine. Personally, I do not plan on using Threads even to promote the site. I cannot condone using an application with this level of data collection so I will not personally use it or contribute to it. For those that cry “but Google and Apple” I will say this, one shitty act does not make another any better.

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