Instagram is a fantastic way to chart your life and show off your photography skills. If you feel particularly artistic, apply a filter and your memories will be given a sepia hue.
But does Instagram spy on you? Does it track your location, access your camera when you don't want it to, and listen to your conversations? Does Instagram read your texts? Here's what you need to know about how Instagram could be spying on you.
1. Does Instagram Track Your Habits?
Instagram tracks your daily habits, and could allow others to do so too.
A feature turned on by default shows followers when you were last online, or indeed if you're online at the same time as them.
By paying close 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 waiting for the bus. You then sign into Instagram at a similar time for a few consecutive days. Most use social media whenever they're bored; in this case, you're using it when you're waiting for public transport. This tells 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 Direct Messages. Alongside the names of people 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".
How to Stop Instagram Showing When You're Online
You can turn this feature off through Settings, which you can find by clicking on the three horizontal lines to the top-right of your profile. Go to Privacy and tap Activity Status off.
This will stop you being able to see when people you follow were last online too.
2. Does Instagram Track Your Location?
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 the time it was taken. EXIF data can't 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 through geotagging! When adding a photo, you can click Add Location, search suggestions, then tap Share.
This might seem especially cool if you're sipping cocktails in an upscale New York City bar. Otherwise, you might have given Instagram access to your GPS on your smartphone or tablet.
Instagram Stories also encourages you to hashtag where you are.
Again, you're signalling that you're away from home. You're advertising your absence.
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.
How to Stop Instagram Tracking Your Location
Just be smarter when tagging, and consider the sort of message it gives to 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. It's always a good move.
3. Does Instagram Access Your Contacts?
While you're checking out location settings, it's worth keeping an eye on which apps can search through your contacts.
This a simple way of finding out which friends have Instagram. But you're allowing the app to see all the people 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 "to provide a more tailored and consistent experience on all Facebook Products you use, wherever you use them... to develop, test and improve our Products... [and] to select and personalize ads, offers and other sponsored content that we show you".
Its intent isn't insidious, but you have to question whether you want private data in the hands of another company.
How to Stop Instagram Accessing Your Contacts
The option to access your contact list speeds things up, but it's not essential. The app does it by default, so you need to disable this by going on your Profile, then tap on the three lines at the top-right of your screen to access Settings. Now click Account > Contacts syncing and untick Connect contacts.
In the Account screen, you'll also see Sharing to other apps and can select which other services you can connect or disconnect sharing options with.
You don't have to sign in with Facebook. You can simply search for friends. Alternatively, do it the old-fashioned way: ask them if they're on Instagram!
4. Is Instagram Listening To Your Conversations?
It's no shock to see advertisements 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 are concerns over social media accessing the microphone of your device and listening in to conversations.
This naturally raises concerns about Instagram, especially as, by default, the app can access your mic. The evidence is anecdotal, and perhaps you'll be skeptical until it happens to you...
Parent company, Facebook denies this happens on its platforms. It states that it blocks brands from advertising based on data collected via mic.
This could all be an odd coincidence. Nonetheless, it might feel a little creepy to some.
How to Stop Instagram Accessing Your Mic
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 longer list of app permissions 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 due credit: it's a comparatively private social network. Yes, it has access to your camera roll, but at least it doesn't automatically prompt you to add all your images in your Photo Library. And your followers can't see the stuff that remains on your device.
You can also archive past photos, meaning Instagram acts as a fine photo storage system allowing you to hide anything you don't want others to view. Just don't rely on it entirely—you don't want to risk your precious pictures being lost.
Here's what to do when your Instagram account gets hacked and how to prevent your Instagram account getting hacked in the future.