Meta’s access to data “is a threat to privacy”- Here’s how to protect your children online

Jarrod Brown
Jarrod Brown

With more than 150 million people already diving headfirst into Threads just two weeks after its launch, experts warn that Meta’s unprecedented access to online data is a threat to privacy. 

Threads is positioned as a competitor to rival social media company Twitter and is the latest in Meta’s line of social media supergiants. Intrinsically linked to Instagram (and in turn, Facebook), users are seemingly forced to share their data across all three platforms. 

Meta’s expanding reach – with Instagram and Facebook boasting more than 2.3 billion and 2.9 billion active users respectively every month – has some experts warning users to carefully read the terms and conditions before signing up.

Dr Nataliya Ilyushina, a Research Fellow in the College of Business and Law, is one of those experts, claiming Meta’s longstanding existence has diminished users’ awareness of privacy concerns. 

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“The way Meta-owned Threads uses data from Instagram is concerning,” she said. “Although the app discloses the specific data it pulls from users’ Instagram accounts, it is typical for users to overlook the terms and conditions.

“Meta also owns Facebook, and while, at the moment, Threads only uses Instagram user information, Instagram accounts are often linked to Facebook accounts, meaning that it is technically a straightforward process to match user information across all three platforms.

“Meta’s increasing reach raises questions about the extent to which users will actually be able to maintain control and separate their content across platforms.”

Professor Iqbal Gondal, Associate Dean at RMIT University, also warns that linking Meta’s social media accounts poses an increased risk to data security.  

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“Every piece of information put on the internet can be aggregated across multiple platforms to build a complete profile of users,” he said. 

“The reason Threads poses an elevated data security risk is that the nature of Meta’s platforms – such as the picture and video-dominated Instagram versus text-heavy Threads – means that data from different sources can be linked, giving a more comprehensive view of users than previously.

“Photos, videos, text, location data, likes, shares, follows, DMs, view watch time, comments… they all come together to form a scarily accurate picture of who we are, what we like and dislike, and how to manipulate us.”

Companies and corporations use data from these online profiles to create tailored advertisements, manipulating users with targeted advertisements. 

How to protect your children’s data

Currently, eight per cent of Instagram users identify as school-age (140 million). However, with one in three children aged six-13 now owning smart devices in Australia, many students are getting involved on social media platforms at a younger age.

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With the only roadblock given to children being a few checkboxes of consent, many younger users are left unaware of the potential dangers to their digital privacy. 

“Education is key in making safe use of any online platform,” said Professor Gondal. “Users should assume a loss of privacy when communicating on the internet. It is something they often forget – or don’t realise the extent.”

With these social media platforms seemingly here for good, The Australian Government’s eSafety Commissioner recommends parents start teaching kids about safe online practices and the impacts of sharing data from an early age. 

This includes educating kids on good password habits, their digital reputationonline advertising and the laws around sexual digital images

According to the digital watchdog, it’s vital children begin to think about who can access their data, what others may be doing with their information, and the impression they are leaving for others to find.

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Professor Gondal says, in order to preserve privacy on platforms like Threads, users should aim to share a minimal amount of personal information, encouraging the use of privacy algorithms and restriction apps to limit their vulnerability online. 

Further information and resources on digital safety can be found on the eSafety Commissioner website

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Jarrod Brown combines his background in journalism, copywriting and digital marketing with a lifelong passion for storytelling. Jarrod established his journalism career working on the education news and information site The Bursar. He lives on the Sunshine Coast - usually found glued to the deck of a surfboard.