Instagram was released in 2010. It is now the most-used social media platform among teens, according to research firm Piper Jaffray. Eighty-five percent of teens report using Instagram at least once per month, compared with eighty-four percent who say the same for Snapchat.
Instagram has just released a new companion app, Threads. It is a messaging app designed to be used only by your closest friends. Instagram has a feature that lets users create a separate list of followers to grant special viewing permissions – Close Friends list. When posting a Story to Instagram, users can differentiate between posting for everyone and posting to their group of Close Friends. The new Threads app is a companion for Instagram that lets you quickly share text, photos, and videos with your close friends list. This sounds great, except it also invites constant, passive sharing of your location, status, and other intimate data, which both invites privacy concerns about how they’re using that close friends list.
Thread’s default screen is the camera. It’s just for taking photos and videos. There are no filters here. The app also offers customizable shortcuts for your close friends, so that if you primarily use the app to message two or three people, you can put their profile picture right on the bottom of the camera screen. Take your picture, tap their photo, and swipe up to send. Thread’s inbox mirrors the direct messages on Instagram but is limited to the close friends list. It includes individual or group chats.
Finally, there’s the status screen, which seems likely to be the most problematic aspect of Threads. It’s a modern-day take on the AOL away message-style status update. To create a status, you pick an emoji and type out a few words or choose from among the many pre-populated statuses that Instagram has created. Then you tell Instagram how long to keep your status visible (from one to four hours). Threads wants you to opt in to “auto status,” which will refresh your status throughout the day as you move about your life. It will learn when you’re at home and at work, for example, and update accordingly. Instagram says it won’t store your exact location, but rather uses the information to create “context.” If you’re at home, you might want to go out, the thinking goes; if you’re at work, you’re probably stuck for a while.
Instagram says your “close friends” will only see your status. The privacy implications are significant, which is why Instagram wrote a separate blog post about Threads’ privacy. Here’s what the company said about how it uses your data if you opt into sharing your status continuously:
“Threads will request your location, movement, battery level and network connection from your phone in order to determine what context to share. For example, Auto Status might use your precise location to show your friends that you’re “ At a cafe.” Or Auto Status might detect that you’re biking and set your status to “ On the Move.” Before this is enabled, you’ll be told what information Auto Status is requesting and will be asked to specifically agree. Auto Status will not share your precise location with your friends, and when Threads sends location information to our server to look up locations, it’s not stored there – this information is only stored on your device for a limited time. It is also deleted if you remove Threads.”
That’s a lot of data to give up, and after years of Facebook scandals related to data privacy issues, you might rightly be concerned. It is worth mentioning that Snapchat essentially asks for the same permissions. Snapchat won’t generate an automatic status for you throughout the day, but it will put you on a map with all your friends if you let it.
Why is Instagram doing this when its main app already has direct messaging? It is to compete with Snapchat. Snapchat is popular with young people in part because of its lightning-fast, camera-focused messaging.
Should I Let My Teen Use Threads?
No, not right now.
Our assessment may change if Bark, our favorite social media parent notification app, adds it to their extensive list of social media platforms they monitor.
The other safety issue we cannot ignore is Threads’ auto-status sharing. Sharing personal information like your location, or what you are doing can be dangerous. Who is in your child’s follower list? Are they people they know in real life? Almost all teens on Instagram and Snapchat have total strangers following them. If your child is already on Instagram, make sure the only people following them are people they know in real life. Your child’s followers should be people they trust and would invite into your home – friends or family. If they are a friend-of-a-friend they have never met or merely follow one of their friends online, they should be blocked or denied access to your child’s social media platform.
Your child’s app store should be locked with a passcode that only you know, or set up with family sharing with you as the app approver.
- Educate yourself about social media and how to intervene in your child’s digital world if necessary.
- We speak to parents at schools throughout the United States. Find a class near you or find out how to bring a seminar to your child’s school.
- Read the definitive guide for online safety for families, Parenting in the Digital World. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our newsletter.
- Install Bark on your child’s phone. Bark will passively monitor your child’s social media and let you know if there is a problem. Use the promo code, “cybersafetycop” to get 15% off.