What to know about Threads integration with Mastodon
How integration between the two affects data privacy, moderation, and advertising
Note: This post was adapted from a Twitter thread.
As you have likely noticed, Meta has launched a microblogging platform called Threads (30 million and counting have joined). Threads plans to be a part of the decentralized social web by using ActivityPub, the same standard protocol as Mastodon. Here’s what you should know about how that will affect Mastodon.
Threads is a distinct application from Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram. It will therefore have a separate user base from these existing platforms, although Instagram users can sign in using their Instagram accounts.
Data Collection and Privacy
The new platform is not yet available in the EU — probably because its data collection violates data privacy laws — and it doesn’t at this time support federation (Mastodon).
Regarding data privacy, Mastodon chose not to broadcast private data like e-mail or IP address outside your account’s host server. Mastodon is designed on the assumption that third-party servers cannot be trusted, according to Mastodon Founder Eugen Rochko.
Advertising and cross-platform tracking
Public profiles and posts are the only data accessible to other servers, and they should not be able to track users across the web. Consequently, it sounds like allowing a server to communicate with Threads shouldn’t reveal any more information than it does communicating with any other server.
Advertising on Mastodon can only be inserted by the server you’re logged into, which should also limit Threads’ ability to become an invasive advertising nuisance.
By default, Mastodon doesn’t include any functionality to display ads. Thus, in theory, unless you use Threads, you won’t see any ads from it.
Your home feed is determined by your own server from the people and hashtags you follow, and third-party servers cannot insert ad-like posts.
While there were concerns about Meta joining Mastodon and overwhelming servers, Mastodon says that small servers should not be affected or even notice the presence of Threads unless they decide to follow specific users.
Comparisons have been made between Meta adopting ActivityPub for Threads and Meta’s adoption of XMPP for Messenger years ago. Even if Threads later abandons ActivityPub, that would only sever the connection that allowed people to communicate back and forth between Threads and existing Mastodon servers, which is where we are now.
The “Fediverse” (a portmanteau of “federated” and “universe”) is a collection of protocols, servers, and users. Together, these form networks that can communicate with one another via the ActivityPub protocol.
Communication with Threads without joining
The Threads app collects a considerable amount of data according to its App Store listing, unlike the Mastodon app, which collects none. This only affects those who download and use the Threads app or become users of Threads through other means.
It sounds like if that’s a concern, you can stick with Mastodon and not join the data extraction dementor that is Meta. No timeline for integration has yet been released, though.
Mastodon expects that the two will eventually be interoperable, as described in the message from Threads in the prior post. However, your specific Mastodon server’s operator(s) ultimately decides if it will permit communication with Threads.
Like any Mastodon server, Threads will have its own moderation policies and tools. Decisions about content blocking can only affect their own platform.
Different Mastodon servers don’t need to agree on all moderation policies to interoperate, and there’s no sign that Threads will differ in this regard.
A milestone for decentralized social media
The adoption of ActivityPub by a social media giant is a significant landmark in social media history but specifically regarding decentralized social media.
This creates an avenue for users locked into these platforms to switch to better providers, thereby pressuring such platforms to offer better, less exploitative services. At least, in theory, it could work this way. It’s something to be hopeful about, in my opinion.
For more info, see this post from Mastodon’s Founder: What to know about Threads.
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