Instagram Threads Auto Status: The fine print

Chris Burns - Oct 3, 2019, 4:36 pm CDT
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Instagram Threads Auto Status: The fine print

There’s a new Snapchat sort of app available starting this week made by the Facebook-owned developers of Instagram. It’s the latest attempt by Facebook – via Instagram – to capture the Snapchat-using youth. The kids don’t want to share things publicly, so they share to friends on Snapchat. Threads just seems to want to have them share to friends on Instagram instead.

How much does Threads from Instagram track me?

Threads from Instagram is a sharing app. It’s a social network within a social network, using your Instagram account as its base. It’s very simple, and very easy to use. And it can track you wherever you go, even if you’re not currently using the app.

Threads from Instagram will track you, if you let it track you. The way this app tracks you is with the feature called Auto Status. With Auto Status, Threads will “know and update your status based on your location, movement, battery level and network connection even when you’re not using the app.”

This is part of the up-front “about” description of the Threads app feature called Auto Status. They also suggest that they will not “show the address or the name of a place in an auto status.” Instead, Auto Statuses “will only show the type of place, like ‘at the movies’ or ‘at home.'”

Of course, to get that sort of information in the first place, it’ll need to know what location in the world you call “home.” It’ll also see where you are, then cross-reference that information with nearby known businesses, and will use that information in one way or another.

The first way in which they’ll use that information – the only way they’ve currently disclosed they’ll use that information – is with the Auto Status feature itself. They released some commentary today alongside the app, via a blog on Facebook.

“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,” said Karina Newton, Head of Policy, Instagram. “It is also deleted if you remove Threads.”

Tracking is done via your phone’s location services permission. “Turning on location services is required for Auto Status to identify and share the general category of the place you’re at,” said Newton.

The idea that your info is deleted from your device if you delete the app is positive news. The fact that your GPS (location) information needs to be sent over the internet to a remote server before it can become useful is not something we’re glad to hear. Even if Facebook uses this information for absolutely no other reason.

Information gathered by my phone – private information like my current location, movement, battery level, and network connection – is not something I’m keen to have sent to a remote server. Or it wouldn’t be if my goal was to minimize the potential for improper use of that information.

They say it’s not for ads

According to Newton, the information you share with Threads via Auto Status will not be used for ads. Specifically, she wrote the following, “Precise location information collected for Auto Status is a new feature specific to Threads and will not be used for ads.

Again, it is written that “when Threads sends location information to our server,” (Instagram/Facebook servers, that is), “to look up locations, it’s not stored there – this information is only stored on your device for a limited time.”

If advertisements are the only part of this whole privacy situation you’re worried about here at the launch of Threads, you’re probably fine. But the specificity of the wording does not dismiss the fact that you’re sending information to Facebook automatically.

If you plan on using Threads, you’ll have to know where to download “Threads from Instagram” – find the app on Google Play for Android or on the Apple App Store for iOS. You can see the entire Threads Privacy Policy at Instagram online now. Read up – we’re already deep in it – we’ll keep you updated!


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