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Will Instagram’s Twitter rival duck privacy for advertising?

Will Instagram’s Twitter rival duck privacy for advertising?
Instagram has launched a countdown clock to when the app goes live on Thursday 6 July.

Instagram owner Meta is taking steps to make its soon-to-launch microblogging platform appealing from a data perspective. But will it be more appealing for advertisers or users?

Instagram is debuting its Twitter competitor, known as Threads, on Thursday after several months of development.

The Threads app can now be previewed in the Apple app store and Meta has launched a countdown website.

The timing couldn’t be better for Instagram parent company Meta. Twitter users, many of which have stayed on the platform due to a dearth of full-fledged alternatives despite criticising its severe drop in quality and content moderation, have been seeking new soil. Competitors such as Mastodon, Post, Substack, and ex-Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s own Bluesky have thus far failed to topple the Elon Musk-owned Twitter.

Twitter’s latest changes, however, could be a death knell. Over the weekend and in a move that befuddled media commentators, the company instituted a new temporary policy to restrict the amount of posts users could view in a given day. Notably, users that pay for the Twitter Blue monthly subscription can view 10,000 Tweets per day, compared to a limit of just 1,000 for non-paying older users. New users can only view 500 per day.

Musk said the changes were necessary to deter third-party data scraping of the platform, such as by large language AI models like ChatGPT.

Regardless of the motive, the rebuke among users has been severe. Advertisers have already been skittish; The New York Times reported last month US ad sales had already fallen 59% year-on-year, and actively limiting the amount of viewable content on the site is unlikely to increase appeal. Enter Threads.

The new app’s user interface looks to seamlessly integrate one’s Instagram account into Threads; users can keep their username, follow the same accounts they follow on Instagram, and make posts in visually comparable ways to Twitter.

An advertiser-friendly alternative?

Twitter has never been of major interest to media planners, in part because of brand safety concerns, relative lack of user growth on the platform, and its high-cost, middling value ad inventory. So, should advertisers be interested in Threads?

“We’ll need to closely watch how Threads grows,” Costas Tsiappourdhi, UK Social Product Partner at digital marketing company Brainlabs, said. “If it takes off and has the right brand-safety measures, it could be a great space for driving engagement for brands. My hope is that Threads uses the same technology that Meta does, which currently has a 99% brand safety record.”

Costas did admit, however, that there are a lot of unknowns when it comes to advertising on the platform that will need to be addressed in the days to come, such as whether Threads will be part of Meta’s extant ad offering or something separate.

Meta is certainly taking steps to make the platform appealing, at least from a data perspective. Unlike decentralised Twitter competitors such as Mastodon and Bluesky, which claim to place great care over user privacy, Threads appears to be taking a more advertiser-friendly approach.

The app’s privacy practices, spelled out in Apple’s app store, show that Threads is going to collect a great deal of information from its users to deliver to advertisers. Such data will include one’s purchase history, financial information, precise and coarse location information, contact information, search history, browsing history, and more.

“All your Threads are belong to us,” tweeted ex-Twitter CEO and Bluesky founder Jack Dorsey in apparent criticism of Meta’s lack of care toward protecting user privacy from advertisers.

Meta did not immediately respond to a request to comment on Threads’ initial privacy policy.

Underlying the obvious concerns over privacy, a move by Meta to supplant Twitter as a “sanely run” space for creators and public figures to interact is also potentially a move toward a more duopolistic social media ecosystem. Meta-owned Instagram and Facebook still remain dominant platforms, especially as the former has sought to compete against TikTok with its short-form video feature Reels. Should the company also supersede Twitter’s niche, it would retain control over a greatly increased share of online activity.

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This article has been updated to reflect comment from digital marketing agency Brainlabs.

Nick Drew, CEO, Fuse Insights, on 10 Jul 2023
“Worth noting is that Threads is currently unavailable in the EU due to ongoing concerns about Meta's approach to privacy - as highlighted by the recent fine handed down by the Irish Data Protection Commission. It may be that Meta works to bring its data handling into line with GDPR in order to launch Threads in Europe; or it could be that it's happy with the status quo and there remains a two-speed approach to data - and advertising - within Meta”

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