Note: this post was updated in August 2019 to reflect the recent Instagram hoax
The image, which fooled celebrities, politicians, and influencers alike, claimed that unless users explicitly stated otherwise, Instagram would be able to access and share their content.
While this particular hoax proved to be entirely false, we aren't always that lucky. I'm sure all those affected by Instagram's data breach in November 2018 would agree.
Because of this, it’s critical we stay well-informed and up-to-date on the measures social media platforms, Instagram in particular, are taking to keep our data secure.
With that, we’re bringing you everything you need to know on Instagram privacy, including how to make your Instagram account private, how to change your Instagram password, and how to delete your Instagram altogether.
Over time, social media users have become increasingly willing to share their personal information online. As Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have become an everyday part of our lives, divulging major aspects of ourselves like photos, locations, birthdays, and even relationship statuses has become less scary and more, well, normal.
Like most social media platforms these days, Instagram does take measures to protect our data. Since it is a platform based on sharing photos, it warns users to be careful about what they share and how they communicate with one another, but takes additional measures as well. As an example, ad data shared with partners cannot personally identify users – it only offers demographic details.
All that said, as commonplace as it is, and even with typical data protections, social media still has its threats. It’s important we’re cognizant of these potential threats, and more importantly, what each individual platform is doing to prevent them.
Related: Stay safe online and keep your accounts secure with a password management tool. Read up on the best password management tools below (they happen to be free, too!)
Instagram privacy threats (and how to prevent them)
With more than 1 billion active Instagram users, there are undoubtedly a few bad eggs. Luckily, by taking the proper security measures, you’re one step closer to protecting your data (and yourself) on social media. Here are a few Instagram privacy threats and how to prevent them.
Instagram accesses your location
Instagram recently introduced a feature that allowed users to tag their location when they posted a new photo or video to the feed. These locations can be as general as an entire city, or as particular as a restaurant, train stop, or even an event – in example, the 2018 Chicago Pride Parade had its own unique Instagram location. When a location is tagged, viewers can click on the tagged location and see other pictures that had been posted there (as long as they were posted from a public account).
This can be a fun feature for business owners or those who want to show off their recent vacation to Paris, but, as always, it’s important to be cautious and know what this may mean.
Tagging a location allows followers (and non-followers, if you have a public account) to keep track of your location, but also allows Instagram to keep track of where you spend your time. This data is recorded, which is why you may see ads targeted to where you live, or suggested locations when you go to post a photo.
If any of this makes you uneasy, you’re in luck: there’s a simple fix. Simply head to your phone’s privacy settings and turn off your location services. If you’d like to keep location services on for other apps, you can find Instagram on your full list of apps and select “never.” Check out the screen recording below for step-by-step instructions.
Instagram shares your in-app activity
This year, the popular reality show The Bachelorette took major heat when fans learned its winning contestant, Garrett Cook, had liked multiple Instagram posts deemed highly inappropriate (i.e., racist). This scandal taught an important lesson. People can see what you like on Instagram, and it may affect you just as much as anything you post yourself.
That sounds grim, but it’s the truth – and while you may not receive quite as much backlash as a public figure, it’s important to keep your social media presence clean and (for the most part) professional. Luckily, absolving this issue is relatively simple (yet still, something so many struggle with). My suggestion? Use your best judgment.
It’s not enough to simply watch what you post and how you message other accounts. You need to remember that other users can see the posts you like and the comments you write, and stay mindful of that.
Additionally, keep in mind that when Instagram users post a story, they’re able to see when you view it, and if you interact with it (voting in a poll, sending an emoji reaction, or answering a question). Again, use your best judgment, and remember that if you answer a question or respond to a poll on Instagram stories, your responses are not anonymous.
The 2018 Instagram DM update
In January 2018, Instagram released an update to Instagram Direct – the app’s one-to-one message platform. This update, which basically introduced the “read receipts” of Instagram DMs, was intended to improve the quality of interactions, but instead prompted quite a bit of uneasiness among users.
With this update, somebody messaging another account via Instagram DM will be able to see when the account opens their message. Once the message is opened, small grey text reading “Seen” will appear under it. In another, similar move to emulate iMessage, Instagram also enabled users are to see when the account they’re messaging is writing back, with the word “typing” appearing as they’re preparing to hit send.
While read receipts are pretty universally disdained, the major point of contention wasn’t the “Seen” notification or the “typing” bubble. Instead, it was the status activity notification, which is almost exactly what it sounds like. That’s right – in one of the creepiest social media moves of 2018, the update would show which users were active – and if they weren’t active, it would say the last time they were.
It’s about as weird as it sounds. When an Instagram user opens up their Instagram DMs to a list of their conversations, a little green circle indicates if the person with whom they were having the conversation is online. If not, it will say when they last were – ”Active 3h ago”, “Active 8m ago” – down to the minute.
I don’t need to go into detail about why this is creepy. Luckily, this feature is easy to disable. Simply navigate to your Instagram account settings (the button that looks like a gear) and there’s a tab under Privacy and Security called Activity Status. Click on that, flip the switch to off, and you’re good to go.
More ways to protect your data on Instagram
While the Instagram privacy threats we covered are certainly prevalent, they are typically more of a one-off experience or precaution.
However, if you’re looking to have a more secure Instagram experience in general, there are a few measures we recommend you consider.
Making your Instagram private
If you’d like your Instagram presence to be a bit more restricted, consider making your Instagram account private.
With a public Instagram account, users (including those who don’t follow you) are able to visit your profile, view your posts and Instagram stories, like or comment on your posts (if you have comments enabled), and see your Instagram bio. Additionally, anybody can follow a public Instagram account without the account owners permission.
On the other hand, a private Instagram account will let you control which users are able to see, and interact with, your activity. Not only will your posts not appear in the Discover tab, but with a private Instagram, users have to request to follow you and wait until you grant them access.
Private profiles can be a great option for job seekers, students, or any Instagram user who is just trying to stay off the grid. If you’re looking to make this change, check out our step-by-step guide covering how to make Instagram private.
Changing your Instagram password
If your main social media concern is getting your account hacked, you’d be smart to change your Instagram password on a semi-regular basis. There is a ton of personal data hiding in your Instagram account and you don’t want it getting in the wrong hands. Additionally, if you’re somebody who uses the same password for a variety of social media platforms (which you shouldn’t, by the way), the damage could be even more detrimental.
We’re not saying you need to change your password once a week, but consider learning how to change your Instagram password so that you can stay proactive. And if you are somebody who uses the same password across channels? Please, if you take anything out of this article, stop doing that. It’s not as hard as it sounds – a password manager software will be your new best friend.
Deleting or deactivating your Instagram account
Okay – I hope this article didn’t scare you too badly, but on the off chance you read this and you’re ready to get off the grid altogether, you may want to deactivate or delete your Instagram account.
If you’re worried about your social media security and want to remove all traces of your Instagram profile, then deleting your Instagram account is your better option. However, keep in mind that your profile, photos, videos, likes, comments, and followers will be permanently deleted. If you’re still on board, here’s where you can learn how to delete an Instagram account.
If you don’t want to delete all of your past activity, but simply want to take a break from Instagram, account deactivation may be a better option. Instagram enables users to temporarily disable their profiles, which will simply hide their profile until they log in and reactivate it.
There’s no doubt that social media can be a scary place. That said, it’s also absolutely wonderful. Social media platforms connect the world, drive innovation, and bring people together. That’s why we’re always striving to learn more and understand it better.
If you want to learn more about Instagram or privacy in particular, check out our additional resources below:
Claire is a former growth marketing team manager at G2. Born and raised in the Chicago area, her brief stint in Ohio (University of Dayton) gave her a new appreciation for deep-dish pizza, but left her well-versed in Cincinnati-style chili and "cities" with a population fewer than 400,000. While not writing, Claire can be found practicing calligraphy, seeking out the best dive bars in Chicago, and planning her next trip. (she/her/hers)