The New Era of Social Media doesn’t look good for Privacy
Nov 2, 2023

In October 2022, when Elon Musk assumed control of Twitter, concerns were raised by experts regarding his proposed alterations to the platform. These changes, which included a reduction in content moderation and the introduction of a subscription-based verification system, led to predictions of an exodus of users and advertisers. One year later, these predictions have largely materialized. Advertising revenue on the platform has dwindled by 55% since Musk’s takeover, and the number of daily active users has diminished from 140 million to 121 million, as confirmed by third-party analyses.

As users migrated to alternative online platforms, this past year represented an opportunity for other social media platforms to rethink their data collection and protection practices. Jenna Ruddock, policy council at Free Press, a nonprofit media watchdog organization, and lead author of a new report examining Bluesky, Mastodon, and Meta’s Threads, expressed her disappointment, stating that regardless of the initial intentions of tech companies, they appear unwilling to deviate from their maximalist data collection approaches.

Tech giants like Google, X, and Meta amass substantial user data, primarily for advertising purposes. However, the collection of sensitive user information, such as race, ethnicity, and sexuality, poses significant risks. Recent settlements, such as the one between Meta and the US Department of Justice, highlight the discriminatory consequences of data-driven algorithms and emphasize the necessity for stronger data protection measures.

Nora Benavidez, director of digital justice and civil rights at Free Press, underscored the connection between data collection and automated tools that perpetuate discrimination. Unfortunately, privacy policies remain complex and vague, leaving users with the burden of deciphering the implications of data usage.

The report identifies Mastodon as a platform offering the highest level of user data protection, refraining from collecting sensitive personal information or geo-location data and avoiding tracking user activity off the platform. Bluesky, founded by Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, also refrains from collecting sensitive data but tracks user behavior across other platforms. However, there are no legal requirements to maintain these privacy standards.

Despite the potential competitive advantage of enhanced privacy for newer platforms, the allure of larger platforms like X and Meta’s Threads may prove insurmountable. Threads, in particular, aligns with the data collection policies of its parent company, Meta, raising concerns about excessive data collection and its sensitivity.

In summary, the changing landscape of social media platforms following Musk’s Twitter takeover underscores the importance of data protection and transparency. While some alternative platforms prioritize user privacy, the dominance of larger platforms remains a challenge for those seeking enhanced data security. Privacy concerns continue to pervade the tech industry, demanding a collective commitment to addressing these issues.