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But since Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram in 2012, some users have gotten suspicious. While it isn’t a malicious social network, it’s entirely believable that Instagram is spying on you.
1. Timely Tracking
A recent addition to the Instagram app is decidedly worrying — particularly because it’s enabled as default. It allows your peers to see when you last used Instagram, including if you’re using it while they’re also online.
That doesn’t seem too concerning at face value, and it fortunately only applies to the accounts who follow you (i.e. your accepted list of friends).
However, Instagram is tracking your daily habits, and could allow others to do so too. By paying attention, an onlooker can note down when you’re most active, and correlate these instances with the appropriate photos.
Let’s say you took a photo of yourself queueing for the bus. You then sign into Instagram at a similar time for consecutive days. Add in the fact that you use social networks whenever you’re bored; in this case, when you’re waiting for public transport. This is a sign to your followers that you’re out of the house at the same time every day. Worse still if you’re stacking up pictures of yourself on vacation.
Try it for yourself. Check out your messages, and alongside the names of folk you’ve talked to before, it’ll tell you when they last logged in. Or if they’re signed in at the same time as you, it’ll say “Active”.
What can you do about it? Fortunately, now that you know about it, you can turn this off. Just go to Settings and change Show Activity Status to “off”. And warn your followers too: as this is now default, many will no doubt be carrying on as normal.
2. Geotagging Locations
Similarly, specific locations can be troublesome when uploaded to Instagram.
As a safety measure, social media sites such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter remove EXIF data when publishing content. This metadata can include what device was used to take the photo, resolution, and time it was taken. There’s no way this EXIF data can be retrieved once deleted, thankfully.
That doesn’t mean Instagram doesn’t know your location.
First of all, you can choose to share where you are! Once adding a photo, you can click Add Location, search suggestions, then tap Share. This might seem especially cool if you’re sipping cocktails in Molokai or think people should know that the Eiffel Tower is in Paris.
Otherwise, you might have given Instagram access to your GPS on your smartphone or tablet.
Heck, Instagram Stories also encourages you to hashtag where you are.
Again, you’re signalling that you’re away from home. That’s madness. You’re advertising your absence.
Once more, you can try it for yourself. Take a look at iknowwhereyourcatlives.com. This is a seemingly-whimsical site that demonstrates how easily you can access online data. It’s also very cute.
What can you do about it? Just be a bit smarter with what you’re tagging, considering what sort of message it might give strangers.
If you use the Instagram app, make sure it doesn’t have access to your GPS. On iPhones, for instance, go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services. On Android devices, click General > Settings > Location. Toggle which apps can see where you are. Do this anyway. Now. Because it’s always a good move.
3. Accessing Your Contacts
While you’re checking out location settings, it’s worth keeping an eye on which apps can search through your contacts.
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Many do this non-maliciously, merely as a means of establishing a network of friends. It’s a simple way of finding out which mates have Instagram. But you’re allowing the app to see all the folk whose details you have.
Similarly, you could link your Instagram account with Facebook — letting the two apps share limited data.
Instagram admits to sharing information with companies that are part of the same group or are signed up as affiliates. This can be used to “provide personalized content and information to you and others, which could include online ads or other forms of marketing.” Its intent isn’t insidious, but you have to question whether you want private data in the hands of another company.
What can you do about it? The option to access your contact list speeds things up, but it’s not essential. The app does it by default, though, so you’ll need to disable this by going on your Profile, then tap on the ellipsis; followed by Contacts. Next, click on the cog and then Disconnect.
You don’t have to sign in with Facebook either. You can simply search for friends. Alternatively, you can do it the old-fashioned way: ask them if they have Instagram accounts!
4. Listening In?
It’s no shock to see advertisements popping up for products you’ve searched for previously. This is achieved through cookies stored on your PC. It may surprise you if personalized ads start promoting items you’ve only talked about.
None of this is confirmed, but there was worry a little while ago about social media accessing the microphone of your smartphone or tablet and listening in to conversations. People have begun to notice that their discussions are materializing as promotions.
This naturally raises concerns about Instagram, especially as, by default, the app can access your mic. The evidence all seems anecdotal, and perhaps you’ll be skeptical until it happens to you…
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It’s important to note that Facebook, the parent company of Instagram, denies this is happening on its platforms. It states that it blocks brands from advertizing based on data collected via mic. Indeed, this could all be an odd coincidence.
Nonetheless, it’s creepy, right?
What can you do about it? You probably gave apps access to your device’s mic when installing. Most do. For iPhone users, go to Settings > Privacy > Microphone; Android users can get a greater list of what an app has asked to access by going on Settings > Apps, then finding Instagram and switching to the Permissions tab. From there, you have control of what it can see.
Let’s give Instagram its due credit: it’s a comparatively private social network. Yes, it has access to your camera roll — that’s literally the whole point of it — but at least it doesn’t automatically prompt you to add all your images. In fact, it can only see the pictures from the past 24 hours. And even then, your followers can’t see the stuff that remains on your device.
Additionally, you can archive past photos, meaning Instagram acts as a fine photo storage system allowing you to hide anything you don’t want others to view.
There are, of course, other means of spying on Instagram. Tracking software is typically altruistic: Blockers Spy for Instagram lets you see which accounts you’ve followed have reciprocated; Spyzie allows device-wide tracker as a form of parental control. Still, they can be used for nefarious purposes.
Generally, as long as you manage your permissions and take necessary precautions when uploading images, Instagram is a neat place to store and share your photos.
Worried your account might have been compromised? Here’s what to do when your Instagram account has been hacked.