Meta, recently launched Threads, its new Twitter competitor that gained immense popularity, amassing over 100 million users in just a week. However, the European Union (EU) is yet to see the app available for download in its member states. Meta spokesperson Christine Pai cited “upcoming regulatory uncertainty” as the primary reason for the delay, with the EU’s Digital Markets Act (DMA) believed to be the main obstacle.

The DMA has sparked ongoing debates between tech companies and regulatory skeptics, with the former arguing that such laws hinder innovation by imposing burdensome user protections. Despite this, Meta has not indicated any intention to forgo a European launch. The DMA serves to slow down the launch of new products, compelling companies like Meta to assess how they protect users before releasing them into the market. This evaluation process, while potentially affecting Threads’ initial popularity, reflects a commitment to comply with European regulations. Nonetheless, the extent to which adherence to Europe’s rules may impact Threads’ design and functionality remains an open question.

While Meta representatives have not explicitly blamed any particular European tech regulation for the delay, interviews with Instagram head Adam Mosseri suggest that the DMA is a significant factor. Passed last year, the DMA introduces a range of rules aimed at curbing the market power abuses of designated “gatekeepers,” including companies like Meta, Google, and TikTok.

These rules prevent Meta from combining the data it collects from users across platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Mosseri highlighted the challenges related to data mixing and verification, emphasizing the need for processes and technologies that ensure transparency and accountability. The DMA prohibits companies of Meta’s magnitude from utilizing a user’s personal data, such as name and location, across its products for targeted advertising without explicit user consent. Meta’s privacy policy discloses that it collects and employs information across its platforms to deliver targeted ads.

In addition, it appears that Threads may collect sensitive data such as health and location information, contacts, and search history, based on Apple’s App Store information. It is worth noting that the collection of data itself does not necessarily violate regulations. However, the DMA’s stipulations on data mixing and the creation of comprehensive advertising profiles raise compliance concerns.

German regulators previously ordered Meta to cease combining WhatsApp and Instagram data without user consent in 2019. The DMA intends to apply similar regulations throughout Europe, necessitating European users’ consent before their personal information can be combined across platforms. Although targeted advertising presents a challenge for many of Meta’s services, Threads faces a unique hurdle due to its close connection with Instagram.

To create a Threads account, users must link their Instagram accounts and use the same account names. This integration enables automatic following of previously followed accounts on Instagram. However, the DMA prohibits gatekeepers from granting preferential treatment to their own products over those of competitors—an action referred to as “self-preferencing.” While Threads’ association with Instagram may not be a clear-cut violation of self-preferencing, concerns have been raised.

Georgios Petropoulos, a digital fellow at the Stanford Digital Economy Lab, commented that using existing popular products like Instagram and Facebook to promote Threads could be viewed as a form of self-preferencing. The EU is expected to provide further guidance on this matter, which could help clarify the situation. Meta has previously encountered regulatory intervention from the EU, resulting in the modification of its products.

In 2020, Germany’s competition watchdog investigated Meta for mandating a Facebook login for Oculus (now Quest) virtual reality headset users. As a result, Meta eventually decoupled the headsets from social media accounts. The requirement for an Instagram login on Threads could present similar challenges for Meta, with potentially more severe consequences. Violations of the DMA can incur fines of up to 10% of a company’s annual revenue, increasing to 20% for repeated infringements, alongside additional nonfinancial remedies.

To address some of the issues raised by the DMA, Meta could allow users to create Threads accounts solely with their email addresses, removing the Instagram account requirement. However, this may introduce additional friction to the app’s growth. Meta has taken steps to make Threads “sticky” through its integration with Instagram, making it challenging for users to delete their Threads account without sacrificing their Instagram account as well.

Rob Sherman, Meta’s chief privacy officer for policy, stated that Threads currently complies with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requirements. However, he noted that developing the offering while navigating other unclarified regulatory requirements would significantly extend the timeline. Given this uncertainty, Meta’s priority was to make the product available to as many people as possible. Mosseri hinted at the daring nature of Threads’ launch, describing it as a “lot more of a yolo launch than anything we’ve done in a while.” While this accelerated pace may be suitable for the US market, some EU lawmakers appear content to wait until the app meets the necessary requirements before its availability.

With Threads’ sudden success, it is unlikely that Meta will permanently forgo launching the app in Europe. Furthermore, the delayed release may provide an opportunity for Meta to refine the platform, ensuring better privacy protections alongside more developed features. According to Danish lawmaker Christel Schaldemose, the fact that Threads is not yet accessible to EU citizens demonstrates the efficacy of EU regulation. She expressed hope that Meta would ensure full compliance with the rules before making the app available to European users.

Update July 10th, 5:33PM ET: Included statements from Rob Sherman, Meta’s chief privacy officer for policy. Correction July 10th, 8:11PM ET: Threads launched in more than 100 countries, not hundreds of countries as we originally reported. We regret the error.

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