There is a new messaging app that makes it easy for users to stay in constant contact and share private content with their inner circle of friends. But one of the options in Threads by Instagram raises some serious privacy concerns that we want parents to know about. Threads users can turn on a feature that allows the app to basically stalk their every move — are they out to eat, working out, or riding in a car? The app could detect where they are and if they’re on the move — to send automatic updates to the user’s designated list of close friends.
We have placed this app in the Smart Social Gray Zone because if your kids are on Threads, we think you should be too to ensure they are using it wisely.
What is the Threads by Instagram app?
- In 2018, Instagram created a feature called “Close Friends,” a list that users can create of their closest friends which allows them to share content exclusively to this list
- The Threads by Instagram app is a standalone app that helps Instagram users share content with their Close Friends list
- Instagram created the Threads app in an effort to compete with Snapchat, which is incredibly popular with teens due to its temporary and personal nature
- Like the Snapchat app, the Threads by Instagram app opens with the camera function
- At the time of this review, the camera does not have any filters but if the app becomes popular we believe they will add them to keep younger users engaged
- Like Instagram, users can add stickers, GIFs, hashtags, location tags, mentions, text, and doodles to their photos or videos
- Users then choose if they would like their post to replay, stay in the chat, or only be viewed once before disappearing
- Posts can be added to “Your Story” for all of the users Close Friends to see or be sent to specific people or group chats
- A feature that is exclusive to the Threads by Instagram app is the “Status” feature
- Users can choose to set their status on the app (similar to away messages on AIM from back in the day) for their friends to see for 1-4 hours or rely on the app’s “Auto Status”
Threads by Instagram is meant to promote constant intimate sharing, according to The Verge
“Facebook is developing a new messaging app called Threads that is meant to promote constant, intimate sharing between users and their closest friends”
“For Facebook and Instagram, which have long coveted Snapchat’s strong engagement among younger users, Threads could represent another effort to chip away at their rival’s appeal.”
Source: The Verge
USA Today reports that Threads by Instagram is designed to rival Snapchat
“The new Snapchat rival is positioned to help you stay connected with your best friends all day long.”
“[A] tool called ‘Auto Status’ will use your location data to automatically share ‘little bits of context on where you are without giving away your coordinates.’”
Source: USA Today
What is Auto Status?
Auto Status is a feature that users must turn on. It uses data signals from their device to choose a status for them. The feature uses the device’s geolocation to share general locations like cafes, restaurants, movie theaters, malls, airports, and home (it won’t share the specific location). It also relies on the user’s accelerometer to show if they’re on the move and their battery life to show if they have low battery or are charging their device.
Some examples of auto statuses:
- On the move (driving, biking, or on foot)
- Low battery
- At the movies
- In the wild
- At a cafe
- Out of town
- At home
The Threads app in the news:
Threads directly states that it doesn’t actively location-share — which is technically true. But with the ability to create custom statuses means that a geo-tag isn’t necessary. You don’t need a real-time map to find someone if their away message announces that they’re at the school library or the theater on Main Street. While this may not be a huge deal with real-life friends, many kids have internet-only friends — and those friends may not always be who they say they are.–Bark App
[Threads] invites constant, passive sharing of your location, status, and other intimate data, which invites privacy concerns about how they’re using that close friends list–Cyber Safety Cop
Why should parents care?
- According to Instagram, the Threads app is designed to keep users connected with their close friends “all day long” which is a red flag that this app may be addictive for students
- Safety experts are concerned this app can be used as a form of cyberbullying when it is used to exclude their peers
- For example, if a student posts an invitation to a party on the app it might make others feel left out if they aren’t on the Close Friends list
- Some students might think there isn’t any risk with sharing negative, personal, or controversial content on the Threads app since it doesn’t post content publicly to all of their Instagram followers
Best Social Media Age?
SmartSocial.com Suggestions for Social Media:
- Ages 0-13: Private
- Age 10: Social Media/Cell Phone Agreement
- Ages 13: Have a family discussion regarding what should be on social media
- Age 13-14: Build a private portfolio and post positive volunteer photos (and accomplishments/projects) online
- Age 15: Make your portfolio public as a website that helps the students shine online
- Age 17: Colleges should be able to find a positive online footprint for your student
What can parents do?
- Before giving your kids access to the Threads by Instagram app, download the app, spend some time using it, and determine if it’s safe for your family to use
- If you decide that the Threads app is safe for your family, consider setting up your family as “Close Friends” so you can stay connected throughout the day and be on the same apps your kids want to be on
- If your children have the Threads by Instagram app, regularly monitor their Close Friends list to ensure they are connecting with their real life friends or family and aren’t talking to strangers
- Remind your children that everything they post online can be shared elsewhere, so it’s important to keep content on the app Light, Bright & Polite™ (even if it was intended to remain private)
Do we really need to know how much battery power our friends have left on their phones or if they are “on the move” right now? While the Threads app might be fun for besties, it certainly sounds some safety and privacy alarms for us here at Smart Social.