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If you’re an Instagram user, the social platform probably knows a lot about you, and it passes your data to its parent company, Facebook. The two platforms share infrastructure, technology, and user data. Your personal information helps the company streamline the functions of the services. Facebook also uses data collected through Instagram, such as who you follow and location information, for targeted advertising and other business purposes.
Instagram has fewer privacy controls than Facebook, but there are settings you can adjust if you want to protect your personal information. You can’t keep data collected by Instagram away from its parent company. But you can curb the app’s access to location information. Instagram also lets you limit your posts to a select audience, adjust some targeted advertising, and perform a couple of other tasks.
Most users access Instagram through the app, but some of the platform’s privacy settings are accessible only when you log in using a browser.
Take Away Instagram’s Location Privileges
Giving Instagram access to your whereabouts lets you tag your posts with your location, which could make your followers appropriately jealous when you post vacation pics. Location data can also be used to show you more relevant content when you’re using the Explore tab, which lets you browse posts from people other than those you follow.
But your location data can also be used to tailor ads to you, and not just on Instagram—the data is connected to your Facebook profile. If you’re not comfortable with that, it’s easy to turn off the app’s access to your device’s GPS. You can always switch it back on later if you want to tag posts, or you can manually enter your location.
Facebook and Instagram can still learn your location using other information, including your IP address and WiFi connection, but revoking GPS permissions will limit the accuracy of the data you hand over.
On an iPhone: Go to the phone’s Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Instagram > Never.
On an Android phone: Go to the phone’s Settings > Location > App access to location > Instagram > Deny. (These instructions are for a Google Pixel; they may vary slightly on some devices. On other versions of Android, Location settings are sometimes under a “Permissions” menu.)
Keep Posts Between You and Your Friends
By default, Instagram makes your account visible to anyone using the app. But you can make your account private. Then people will need to send a request to follow you before they can see your posts and videos.
Instagram says turning the setting on won’t affect anyone who already follows you. They’ll still be able to see your posts.
On the app: Go to your profile by clicking the icon in the bottom right > Open the menu in the top right > Settings > Privacy > Switch on the “Private Account” toggle.
Limit the Ads You See on Certain Topics
Like most social media websites, Instagram runs on ads, and there’s no way to avoid them. You can choose to avoid ads on a few select topics, though. Navigate to the ad topic preferences menu, and you can tell Instagram you want to see fewer related to alcohol, parenting, pets, social issues, elections, and politics. You’ll find the same settings on Facebook accounts. In both cases, the company doesn’t guarantee you won’t see ads related to these subjects altogether, but it may be worth trying.
These settings won’t do much to protect your privacy, but there are ways you can adjust your social media feed for a healthier and more pleasant experience.
On Instagram: Go to your own profile by clicking the icon in the bottom right > Open the menu in the top right > Settings > Ads > Ad Topic Preferences > Tap the subject you want to avoid > Save.
Make Ads a Little Less Personal
There are two other tools that limit how Instagram uses your data for ads—if you know where to find them.
You can’t opt out of targeted advertising altogether, but you can put some limits on how your data is used. One setting prevents the company from using data sent by third parties for advertising. The other will stop Facebook from showing you ads on websites not owned by the company, based on your activity on Facebook’s own services. In both cases you’ll still see the same number of ads, but Facebook says some categories of your data will be off limits.
Here’s the catch: You have to adjust the second setting on Facebook, not on Instagram. When you do that, the company will apply the change across all of its services as long as it can match your various accounts together, according to a company spokesperson, Stephanie Chan.
If you’re not a Facebook user, there’s no way to adjust that second setting. These instructions are for a web browser. You can adjust the second setting in the Facebook mobile app as well.
On Instagram: Go to your profile by clicking the icon in the bottom right > Open the menu in the top right > Settings > Ads > Data About Your Activity From Partners > Switch the toggles off for all the accounts listed.
On a computer: Log in to Facebook > Click the downward arrow in the top right corner > Settings & Privacy > Settings > From the menu on the left, select “Ads” > Ad Settings > Ads Shown Off Of Facebook > Switch the toggle off.
(Facebook is rolling out updates to its advertising settings. The last few steps may be slightly different on some accounts, but these instructions will get you there either way.)
Protect Your Account From Hackers
One of the easiest ways to boost your security is to use multifactor (aka two-factor) authentication (MFA), which is available for many services. You may already use it for your email or bank account.
If you turn it on, Instagram will text you a code that it will use to confirm your identity whenever you log in from a new browser or an unfamiliar device.
Experts agree that text messages aren’t the most secure option for multifactor authentication, and for an extra boost, Instagram will also let you set up multifactor authentication using an app on your phone , such as Google Authenticator or Duo Mobile.
With MFA on, no one will be able to log in to your account unless they have access to both your phone and your password.
On the app: Go to your profile by clicking the icon in the bottom right > Open the menu in the top right > Settings > Security > Two-Factor Authentication > Get Started.
Limit Data Sharing With Other Companies
You can connect Instagram to third-party apps such as VSCO, Sprout Social, and Later, which some people use to do things like schedule posts, edit photos, and analyze followers’ interactions with their posts.
Apps connected to your Instagram account can access some of your data. The more apps you tie together, the more vulnerable you are to security and privacy risks. Third-party apps played a big role in the the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the data leak that ultimately lead to the demise of Google’s social media network, Google+.
Instagram makes it easy to examine what kind of data and permissions you’ve made available to other apps, and revoke access for apps you’re uncomfortable with or don’t use anymore.
On the app: Go to your profile by clicking the icon in the bottom right > Open the menu in the top right > Settings > Security > Apps and Websites > Active > Next to a particular app, tap “Remove.”
Stop Syncing Your Contacts
Instagram uses a number of techniques to recommend new accounts for you to follow. One method is to periodically scan the contacts on your phone if you’ve granted Instagram permission to access them.
Once you grant any company access to your contacts list, it’s hard to know just what they’ll do with it. A number of reports, including one from researchers at Princeton and Northeastern University in 2018, suggests that Facebook used information from users’ address books to target their friends with ads.
If you’ve given Instagram permission to scan your contacts, it’s not too late to change your mind.
On the app: Go to your own profile by clicking the icon in the bottom right > Open the menu in the top right > Settings > Account > Contacts Syncing > Switch the toggle off.
That doesn’t delete contacts from your Instagram account that the company has already uploaded, however. You can do that by logging into Instagram using a computer.
On a computer browser: Log in to Instagram > Click on your profile picture in the top right to open the menu > Settings > Manage Contacts > Delete All.
Don’t Broadcast That You’re Online
A few years ago Instagram launched a feature that lets users see when people they follow or communicate with over direct messages are online. That might be handy if you want to know whether it’s a good time to send a friend your favorite new meme, but seeing other users’ online status requires that you make yours public, too.
If that doesn’t seem like a worthwhile trade, you can switch the feature off.
On the app: Go to your profile by clicking the icon in the bottom right > Open the menu in the top right > Settings > Privacy > Activity Status > Switch the toggle off.
Limit the Ways Instagram Uses Your Account to Build Its Network
You may have noticed that when you follow a new account, Instagram recommends you check out a few similar users. The same thing happens in reverse: Instagram will recommend your account to other people.
That’s useful if you want to attract as many followers as possible, but you can also chose to make yourself harder to find. You’ll need to use a browser, not the app, to access the appropriate setting.
On a phone browser: Log in to Instagram > Click on your profile picture in the top right to open the menu > Profile > Edit Profile > Uncheck the box for “Similar Account Suggestions.”
Protecting Your Online Privacy
It doesn’t matter whether you’re on your phone or laptop: Your personal information can leave a digital trail of where you go online. On the “Consumer 101” TV show, Consumer Reports’ expert Thomas Germain explains to host Jack Rico what to do to protect your online privacy.