What are you exposing yourself to by signing up to Threads right now? It is a relevant question that you addressed to us. Indeed, although Threads is not officially accessible in Europe, it is quite possible to install the application and register without encountering any restrictions. Let’s look at the question to see more clearly.
Threads, the new app from Meta (formerly Facebook), has launched to great acclaim in over 100 countries, racking up over 70 million downloads in less than 48 hours. However, the app remains unofficially unavailable in Europe. Why this restriction? What are the risks for European users who still wish to register? Let’s try to unravel the mystery.
The regulatory role of the Irish DPC
The Irish privacy regulator, which oversees Meta in Europe due to the company’s European headquarters in Dublin, has announced that it is in discussion with the company regarding the data collected and used by Threads. Florent Gastaud, GDPR expert at My external DPO and former DPO of OVH, nevertheless specifies that ” Meta does not need permission to launch Threads in Europe ». However, to be deployed, the application must comply with European regulations, and Meta must be able to explain this compliance.
If Meta hasn’t launched Threads in Europe yet, it’s probably because the company wasn’t ready. This delay could be explained by technical and legal difficulties. Indeed, bringing an application into compliance with GDPR regulations requires significant work, including technical actions, information notices, and the implementation of specific functionalities, such as account deletion. Especially since Meta’s history with the European Union is littered with incidents, fines, investigations and controversies.
For example, in theory, the account deletion feature is not a strict GDPR requirement. In practice, it contributes to the respect of the “right to erasure”, also called “right to be forgotten”, which can be respected by other means by manually processing all requests for deletion of data. However, for an application published by Meta, the possibility for the user to delete his account is a must. Currently, it is not possible to delete your Threads account independently. Indeed, to delete a Threads account, you must also delete the associated Instagram account.
A complex history around the data
Meta has a long history in Europe regarding data processing. Several issues have arisen in the past. The first issue concerns the transfer of data between applications. Meta has been pinned several times by the European Commission for opacity concerning the sharing of information between its various applications, including Facebook and WhatsApp.
Then, the transfer of data from Europe to the United States has already been condemned for Meta. Last May, the Irish personal data regulator fined the company €1.2 billion for illegal data transfers.
Finally, the processing of data for advertising purposes is a sensitive subject. Last January, Meta was accused of violating its transparency obligations, and of relying on an erroneous legal basis for the processing of personal data for the purpose of targeted advertising. This track record, along with the risk of hefty fines and reputational damage, makes Meta certainly cautious about deploying Threads in Europe.
Listing on Threads: what are the risks for Europeans?
In this context, what is the risk for Europeans who would like to register on Threads despite its official unavailability in Europe? Currently, by signing up to Threads, you submit to US, not EU, rules. By registering on Threads when the application is not officially available in Europe, you therefore de facto accept the rules and conditions defined by Meta according to American standards, and not those of the European Union.
GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is considered to provide one of the highest levels of personal data protection in the world. This strict regulation requires companies to follow clear principles when it comes to collecting, storing, processing and sharing personal data. Therefore, if Threads were GDPR compliant, European users would theoretically be better protected. In other words, by registering at this stage, your protection is effectively less.
That said, this does not mean that personal data protections are non-existent in the United States. US companies are subject to laws, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which also provide some level of data protection, although different from GDPR.
Furthermore, it should be noted thatInstagram, with which Threads is closely linked, is subject to the GDPR and therefore theoretically complies with its obligations. However, this situation creates a kind of “grey area” in terms of data protection, as there are no clear answers on how GDPR rules might apply to Threads in this context.
Especially since although Threads is not officially available in Europe, the application is still accessible in French and works without requiring a VPN. Additionally, Meta has not taken active steps to block access to the app from Europe. This means that European users can potentially access and use Threads according to US laws rather than EU laws. This situation could raise questions about the scope and application of the GDPR, in particular with regard to the transfer of personal data outside the EU.
A complex future for Threads in Europe
The arrival of Threads in Europe promises to be complex, especially with the promise of the application to allow users to follow and interact with people present on other Fediverse platforms, such as Mastodon. Although not yet active on Threads, these planned features could cause additional issues regarding data sharing and transfer, which will undoubtedly give Meta legal teams and European authorities a hard time.
We understand better why Meta is proceeding with caution regarding the arrival of Threads in Europe. The complex regulatory context and previous convictions related to data protection certainly explain this caution. It remains to be seen how the company will manage to navigate in this environment to offer its application to all European users.
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