Jessica Booth
January 19, 2018 12:23 pm

This week, Instagram quietly rolled out a new direct messaging feature that made many users less than thrilled. The update, which is a status activity notification in Direct, shows you when people you message or follow were last active on Instagram. With notifiers that say things like “typing” or “active 7m ago,” the update makes it harder to keep your social media activity private. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only way Instagram may be compromising your privacy.

The app was made for sharing information with friends and maybe even strangers (depending on your settings), but has changed quite a bit since it was first created and may currently share more personal information than you think. Privacy on Instagram has come into question even more since Facebook bought the app — and this latest Instagram update has many users feeling like whatever they do on the app will become public information.

To be fair, some of these features can be turned off, like the new DM update. And of course, you always have the option to make your profile private so that you can select who sees your pictures and who doesn’t. But private or not, some features just come with use of the app, and they can be concerning.

Here are a few ways Instagram may be compromising your privacy:

1. It accesses your location.

Instagram, like so many other apps, will automatically access and track your location if you don’t turn the feature off yourself.  To turn off location services, go to your iPhone settings, tap Privacy, then Location Services, scroll down to find Instagram, and choose Never or While Using The App. Still, if you add geotags to your photos, that data is recorded and can give Instagram a good idea of where you spend a lot of your time — which is why you might notice ads that are relevant to where you live.

2. It lets everyone know what photos you like.

If you’re familiar with the app, you’ll know that when you click the notifications tab at the bottom of the page, you have the option to look at your own notifications or “Following.” The Following tab shows you the real-time activity of your friends, like what photos they like, what comments they leave, and who they’re following.

Recently, the app has made it even easier to see what photos your friends are liking. If you go to an image and a friend likes it, their name pops up underneath with something like: “@user11 and 1,000 others liked this.” If you’re liking something you don’t want others to see, this can be an unwelcome side effect.

3. It collects a ton of your data.

Instagram accesses a lot of your data without you even realizing it. According to their Privacy Policy, this includes: user provided information (like your email address and phone number), data on how people use Instagram though cookies, analytics from third-parties focusing on websites users visit in addition to Instagram, device identifiers that show when users are logging in through computers or mobile devices, and content metadata like hashtags and comments. This information is used for many things, according to Instagram, which includes helping you access your information after signing in, helping to monitor and improve the effectiveness of the app, monitoring metrics, diagnosing and fixing tech issues, automatically upgrading the app, and testing new products and features.

4. It allows your photos to be used by anyone without permission.

Unless your profile is private, anyone is allowed to go to your page and use your photo for whatever they want, whether it’s posting it on a website or claiming it as their own. One law firm says,

There are ways to get around this. If you have a patent or copyright on your photo, it can’t be repurposed without permission — but for the most part, this is true. And kind of scary.

5. Instagram can access other social media accounts and your private contact list.

If you’ve ever looked for other people you know on the app, you may have come across the Find Friends feature. This feature accesses your private contact list on your phone and third-party social media sites. Plus, if you look at your privacy settings, you might notice that the app can easily link to your other accounts, like Facebook, and can access the information you have on those as well.

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6. It alerts others to exactly what you’re doing on the app and when you’re doing it.

The new DM feature is causing a bit of a stir because of the new real-time updates. Not everyone wants their followers to know exactly when they’re active on the app. You can turn this feature off, but it isn’t the only way other users can see what you’re doing. When you leave a comment on a photo, a friend who is also looking at it might see your comment stand out at the bottom, even if it’s a celeb photo with thousands of comments. You can see who views your Instagram stories, who voted for what on polls you make, and when someone has seen (and maybe ignored) your DM. That’s a lot of info!

In order to use Instagram safely, it’s really important to remember that the app can have this kind of access to your information. You can always minimize this by turning off Location Services and making your profile private, but if you choose not to do so, keep in mind that the app knows more about you than you think.

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