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Here’s why Threads is still banned in European Union and may remain for a while.



Threads banned in European Union
Threads banned in European Union

A unforeseen regulation in Europe “Digital markets Act” stands in the way and hinders the release of Meta’s Threads

Recently, Meta, the parent company of Facebook, made a notable entrance into the social media landscape with Threads, a direct competitor to Twitter. Surpassing expectations, Threads garnered an impressive user base of over 100 million within its first week of launch across 100 countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom. However, prospective users residing in the European Union will have to exercise patience as the app remains unavailable in the region.

What caused the Threads delay?

The delay in its European release can be attributed to the prevailing regulatory uncertainty, as Meta spokesperson Christine Pai explained. This uncertainty is widely believed to stem from the European Union’s Digital Markets Act (DMA), a legislation designed to govern competition in the digital market.

Critics of such regulatory measures argue that they stifle innovation by burdening companies with demanding user protection requirements. Nevertheless, the DMA does not prevent Meta from introducing new products, and the company has not indicated any intention to forgo a European launch of Threads. It is important to note that the DMA adds a layer of scrutiny and evaluation to the launch process, compelling companies to prioritize user protection before releasing their products to the market. Consequently, this additional scrutiny may lead to a slower initial uptake of Threads, potentially dampening its initial popularity. The situation remains uncertain as companies await further guidance in the coming months. Furthermore, there is an open question regarding whether complying with Europe’s regulations will compromise the design principles that have contributed to Threads’ rapid growth.

The DMA puts obstacles to delay a product’s release and prompts the company to prioritize user protection before launching it to public.

Pai and other representatives from Meta have not directly attributed the delay of Threads to any specific tech regulations in Europe. However, in interviews with Instagram head Adam Mosseri, it appears that the EU’s Digital Markets Act (DMA) is a contributing factor. The DMA, last year passed aims to regulate companies defined as “gatekeepers” – those with a significant user base and market cap – to prevent them from abusing their market power. Recently, Meta and other major tech companies like Google and TikTok were officially designated as gatekeepers, granting them a six-month period to prepare before enforcement actions can be taken.

Mosseri mentioned various reasons for the postponement, but he specifically highlighted the rules that prohibit Meta from combining user data collected from Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp.

Aside from disclosure and consent, Mosseri emphasized the need for processes and technology that ensure data integrity. He stated in an interview with The New York Times’ Hard Fork podcast, “You have to put in place processes and technology that all but guarantee that anything you say, you can verify; and usually multiple ways.”

The DMA prevents companies as large as Meta from utilizing a user’s personal data, such as their name and location, across its products for targeted advertising without obtaining user consent. Meta’s privacy policy acknowledges that it collects and uses information across its products to deliver targeted ads. Information from Apple’s App Store suggests that Threads may collect sensitive data, including health and location information, as well as a user’s contacts and search history.

What’s the deal breaker for Threads?

Threads may not collect significantly more data than Meta’s other services, and data collection alone wouldn’t cause trouble. The issue lies in the rules of the DMA regarding data mixing, which involves combining all user data to create advertising profiles. German regulators had previously ordered Meta to stop combining WhatsApp and Instagram data without user consent in 2019. The DMA would impose similar rules across Europe, requiring European users to opt in before their personal information can be combined across platforms.

While targeted advertising poses challenges for most Meta services, it might not be the primary concern for Threads. The app’s initial success is largely attributed to its integration with Instagram. To create an account on Threads, users must link their Instagram accounts and use the same usernames. They can then automatically follow the same accounts they were already following on Instagram.

The issue at hand is that the DMA prohibits gatekeepers from giving preferential treatment to their own products on their platforms, known as “self-preferencing.” This term has been used to describe how companies like Amazon and Google promote their own products over competitors’ in search results, such as Amazon Basics or Google’s reviews.

Georgios Petropoulos, a digital fellow at Stanford Digital Economy Lab, expressed concerns about Threads potentially engaging in self-preferencing, although it may not be a clear violation. If Threads utilizes popular existing products like Instagram and Facebook to promote its new platform, it could be seen as a form of self-preferencing. The EU is expected to provide further guidance to companies in the coming fall, which could clarify the situation.

How can Meta fix it?

To address the concerns raised by the DMA, an option could be provided to users, allowing them to create Threads accounts using just their email addresses instead of requiring Instagram accounts. Meta might consider implementing this change in the future. However, it remains uncertain whether this additional requirement would hinder the app’s rapid growth. Meta has made efforts to increase user engagement by integrating Threads with Instagram, making it challenging to delete a Threads account without sacrificing the associated Instagram account.

EU’s regulations really work

“The fact that Threads is still not available for EU citizens shows that EU regulation works,” said Christel Schaldemose, a Danish lawmaker, according to Politico last week. “I hope Meta will make sure all rules are covered and complied with before opening up for EU citizens.”
Rob Sherman, Meta’s chief privacy officer for police, stated on Threads that the app currently complies with the EU’s GDPR privacy regulations. However, he also mentioned that meeting other unclear regulatory requirements could significantly delay the development of Threads. Therefore, Meta prioritized making the new product available to as many people as possible, given the uncertain regulatory landscape. During an interview with Hard Fork, Mosseri indicated that Meta would need to develop new systems to demonstrate Threads’ compliance with all of the EU’s rules.


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