Issue 04 - 2023MAGAZINETechnology
GBO_ fediverse-catalyst disruptive-force

Threads: Fediverse catalyst or disruptive force?

Threads could achieve USD 5 billion in annual ad revenue by 2023 end, equalling X's 2021 earnings, wealth management firm Bernstein stated

On July 5, 2023, Mark Zuckerberg-led META launched its Twitter competitor called “Threads.”

The app shares features similar to Twitter, now rebranded as ‘X’. Threads is also using its connection with Instagram and Meta to attract advertisers, an area where Twitter is bleeding heavily right now. Threads is offering to feature businesses features like ‘Sponsored Threads’, ‘Promoted Replies’, and ‘Branded Stickers.’ The app is also experimenting with new ways of monetising content, such as tipping, subscriptions, and e-commerce.

Threads could achieve USD 5 billion in annual ad revenue by 2023 end, equalling Twitter’s (now X) 2021 earnings, wealth management firm Bernstein stated. Morningstar analysts predict that Threads could add between USD 2 billion and USD 3 billion to Meta’s revenue every year between 2024 and 2027. Evercore ISI analysts believe that Threads could generate annual revenue worth USD 8 billion by 2025.

Twitter had nearly 240 million monetizable daily active users as of July 2022. So the newbie called ‘Threads’ has to undertake a long journey ahead. However, Mark Zuckerberg’s venture is now investing in upgrading its AI capacity to boost traffic to Facebook and Instagram and increase ad sales, while Twitter (now X) on the other hand, has lost almost half of its advertising revenue since it was bought by Elon Musk for $44 billion in October 2022, and analysts believe a lion’s share of the micro-blogging platform’s rebranding efforts may be directed towards winning back the advertisers’ trust.

Meta is currently focused on building the core Threads product as opposed to monetising the app, but there is no denying the fact that advertisers want to splurge their capital on this platform.

However, our topic of discussion will be a different one here.

The privacy debate

Talking about Threads policies on collecting users’ data and protecting them, the app collects far more individual data points than Twitter. Users’ health and financial data, along with the ones on religious and political views, sexual orientation and racial/ethnic origins can be collected by the app, but with the ‘users’ consent’.

On the other hand, Twitter discloses 10 data points that it uses for tracking its users, and these are ‘Precise Geographic Location,’ ‘Email Address,’ ‘User’s Browsing History,’ ‘User’s Product Purchase History,’ ‘User ID’ and last but not the least, the ‘Device ID’ from which we are tweeting our mind out in the digital space.

Simon Migliano, Head of Research at Top10VPN.com, told India-based Hindustan Times, “Threads certainly collects significant amounts of personal data, however, any user of Instagram or Facebook will already be sharing this data with Meta and the permissions sought are fairly standard for a social media app.”

Mogliano also stated that Meta’s clause of making it impossible for a user to delete his/her Threads account without deleting the parent Instagram ID also makes the whole scenario “really quite deceptive.”

Experts also don’t rule out the scenario of hackers having a dream field day, in case Threads undergoes a significant data breach. Remember, Threads falls under Meta’s wider privacy policy, which helps the tech giant to capture users’ basic information, their device details, credit/debit card details, product purchase history, content preference and most importantly, the people they befriend and follow on social media. All the information is considered a treasure trove for cybercriminals.

Meta also got entangled in a row in 2018, when it was revealed that consulting firm Cambridge Analytica paid a Facebook app developer for access to the personal information of about 87 million users during the 2016 United States Presidential Elections. This information was then used to target the American voters.

Threads is still facing legal hurdles in Europe. Reason: European Union’s Digital Markets Act (DMA) sees Meta as a ‘gatekeeper’ company, which will potentially risk large fines for violation of data-sharing laws.

To make matters worse, you have threat actors attempting to exploit Threads’ security loopholes, and conduct phishing attacks and distribute malware, according to an analysis conducted by Veriti, a cyber-security infrastructure start-up.

Veriti even witnessed a surge in the creation of suspicious domains in the periods immediately before and after Threads launched, with more than 700 being registered around the world daily.

Is Fediverse the solution?

“Meta is dangling an opportunity to essentially be on Threads without signing up for the platform at all. The company announced yesterday that it is planning to make Threads interoperable with other, non-Meta social networks that support a decentralised protocol already used by WordPress and 2022’s decentralisation poster child, Mastodon. This means that if Meta follows through, you’ll be able to see and interact with Threads content from other platforms and services that support the standard, which is known as ActivityPub,” stated a Wired report.

Meta has already stated its plans to support ActivityPub through Threads. The tech giant seeks to incorporate the idea of decentralised social media into Threads and make the concept a mainstream one. Supporting ActivityPub has been a core part of this grand plan.

While Meta’s data collection methods are raising eyebrows, you have the company’s vision of a ‘Decentralised Social Media’ to avert the crisis.

ActivityPub is used by apps including the Twitter-like Mastodon. The whole operating principle works around the ethos of sharing and openness. ActivityPub allows different social media apps to not only interact and view each other’s content, but also move their digital identity across the services.

So a user, if he/she is wary of Threads’ data collection practises, can still join the app through Mastodon or another ActivityPub platform until Threads. However, Bluesky must be mentioned here, as it doesn’t support ActivityPub but is working on its own vision of a decentralised, portable social network.

In “Fediverse,” an individual joins a server, from where he/she can communicate with all the other servers running the same protocol. All these servers can only see and monitor the content being put out from the users’ end. No other sensitive information gets leaked here.

“Decentralisation doesn’t change the basic functions of a social network, and that’s fine. The whole point of these services is to be a platform for publicly posting and consuming information. They aren’t designed around implementing end-to-end encryption. The servers still have access to user data and can be subpoenaed by governments or hacked. But decentralisation creates a model through which users can elect to entrust their information to servers based on which ones have less-predatory data practises,” stated the Wired report.

“Meta will know who all of its users interact with and follow within Threads, and it will also be able to see who its users follow in the broader fediverse. And if Threads builds up anywhere near the reach of other Meta platforms, just this little slice of life would give the company a fairly expansive view of interactions beyond its borders,” stated Ross Schulman, senior fellow for decentralisation at digital rights non-profit the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“I am perhaps equal parts excited and apprehensive to see how things play out with Threads, but it is really underlining the beauty of the Fediverse that you have every option and the opportunity to choose,” he noted, while concluding, “If you like Meta and you want to be in there, great. Go join Threads, you’ll be happy there, and you’ll also have access to everything else. If you don’t want to be a part of Meta, but you’ve got friends or family that do or public figures or whatever, then fine. You can get an account on any number of other Fediverse servers and then follow the people that you want. Or if you want nothing to do at all with Meta, then there are plenty of servers out there [that] have already announced that they’re pre-emptively blocking Threads. So you can live that life, too.”

Decentralised social media ensures that those having concerns with Threads’ data collection methods still enjoy the app’s services by logging in from other ActivityPub platforms. The only question that remains here is whether this particular solution will be a viable one in the long run.

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