Thinking about signing up with Instagram, but worried about your privacy? Have you ever wondered about how much information you’re giving away when you post, or asked if there are better ways to control who can see your information? We all want to enjoy our social networks to connect with family, friends and followers, but sometimes we have stories we don’t want the entire world to see. Knowing what your privacy options are before signing up can help you feel more comfortable when using the app, and start sharing moments with confidence.

The ultimate guide to Instagram privacy

With over one billion active users per month according to Omnicore, Instagram is a popular social network with a fast, devoted following. Whether you’re a new user who wants to know more about privacy before you join, or you’re an Instagram pro who wants to learn more privacy options when using the app, here’s what to look out for.

1. Pay attention to what you post

This is something every user on Instagram should be doing, yet horrible examples abound of innocent photographers revealing more about themselves than they should via photo… a lot more. Instagram is now one of the networks regularly scanned by hackers looking for fresh victims who unwittingly provide the keys for successful fraud, or detailed information to complete their next big social engineering scam. Here are examples of items that should never be posted:

  • Credit cards, bank checks, flight boarding passes, documents that include financial numbers and account information.
  • Images of items that include Social Insurance Numbers in sight, such as SIN cards.
  • Tax documents, refunds, financial forms.
  • Identification cards and documents, such as a driver’s license, passport.
  • Detailed health IDs, such as a health card, insurance number or form.
  • Paper or electronic ballots after voting (these will invalidate the vote!).
  • Images of you breaking local, state, provincial or federal laws.
  • Images of you goofing off or causing disruption at work – aside from risking an HR call for conduct, you may capture confidential information not meant to be shared outside the office.

2. Turn off activity status

Your activity status on Instagram tells other users when you are using or scrolling through the app, allowing friends to know when it may be a good time to chat. This can be a good thing when you want to connect, but annoying if you’re doing a quick account check and don’t want to be disturbed.

To turn off activity status so that other users cannot tell when you’re online:

  1. Go to the Lined button at the top of your menu and hit Settings.
  2. Scroll down to Privacy and Security> Show Activity Status.
  3. Toggle the option to off.



3. Improve your account’s security by using two-factor authentication

Although not invincible, two-factor authentication is popular in security and highly recommended, because it means an outside hacker needs more than your username and password to access your account. With Instagram, you are provided with two options: you can set your account to send a text code to one of your devices when logging in, similar to a second password. As of recent updates, you can log into Instagram through a third party authentication system, such as Google Authenticator.

To activate two-factor authentication on your account:

    1. Go to the Lined button at the top of your menu and hit Settings.
    2. Scroll down to Privacy and Security> Two-Factor Authentication.
    3. Toggle Require Security Code.

Keep in mind to use two-factor authentication in this manner, you may need to add a phone number to your account, so that you can receive the authenticating text codes. 

4. Consider locking your account

If you want to stop strangers from viewing your photos completely, consider locking the account so that only those friends and followers you approve of can see what you post.

To make your account private:

  1. Go to the Lined button at the top of your menu and hit Settings.
  2. Scroll down to Privacy and Security> Private Account.
  3. Toggle the option to on.

Instagram notes that once your profile is private, new followers will have to send a follow request to see your images; however, posts you share to other social networks may be visible depending on the network preferences.

5. Block individual accounts

Feeling under the microscope by certain parties? Consider blocking the specific account so they can’t see you. Blocked accounts can’t see your images or video, search for your name, and their comments won’t appear in your Activity. Although you won’t be completely hidden, as users not logged in will still be able to view your account, blocking specific users may save some grief by knowing your images are not showing up on their timeline.

To block an account:

  1. Visit the account you want to block.
  2. Go to the three dots next to your username.
  3. Click the red ‘Block’ option, above report.


6. Control comments on your stuff

Comment controls won’t protect privacy by hiding your images or data, but they can limit what others post on your pictures and weed out offensive or annoying messages.

For more power over your conversations:

  1. Go to the Lined button at the top of your menu and hit Settings,
  2. Scroll down to Privacy and Security> Comment Controls.

Here you’ll have the option to allow comments based on who you follow or who’s following you, block comments from specific individuals or generally hide offensive text.

7. Limit the access of third-party apps

Third-party apps—those applications that can access your Instagram account—can allow the user to experience or apply Instagram in unique ways. For example, you might use a third-party app to apply unique filters to your image before uploading, to engage with your followers in different ways, or analyze what your followers are most interested in. There are concerns, however, that not all third-party apps take privacy seriously and may end up collecting or disclosing more information than you’re comfortable with.

Instagram itself implemented new controls for the data it can access as of April 2018, which some reports have suggested was triggered in part by parent company Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal. Before using a third-party app and granting it Instagram access, read the privacy policy and look for red flags, or options to limit the data the app can access.

8. Set “Photos and Videos of You” to off

Not only can your friends view and comment on your pictures, but they can also tag you in images they upload, identifying individuals in the image. With Photos and Videos of You, those pictures can also be automatically added to your own profile, where they can be seen by your followers and visitors. Sometimes however, like a bad hair day on camera, we’d rather not showcase the image on our own networks.

If this sounds like you, there is an option:

  1. Go to the Lined button at the top of your menu and hit Settings.
  2. Scroll down to Privacy and Security > Photos and Videos of You.
  3. Toggle the menu to off.

To be clear, turning off this option will stop pictures tagged as you from being added automatically to your profile; it will not remove the original image or tag. However, it does give you the option of manually adding, or reject those images from going to your own profile, which provides some control for your own account.

9. Use “Stories”

Stories are brief Instagram posts that disappear after 24 hours. They don’t appear in your regular feed, but are instead displayed as a button list at the top of the feed as users browse through, and don’t remain in your profile later, the perfect way to share a memory briefly without keeping it forever with your profile history. You can set images and video as stories by hitting the camera button at the top of your profile. In addition, Instagram allows you to toggle off others reshaping your stories, and provides other preferences under Story Controls. While there is no way to block users from sharing pictures uploaded as stories entirely due to screenshots, consider Story Controls as an option.

To set up Story Controls:

  1. Go to the Lined button at the top of your menu and hit Settings.
  2. Scroll down to Privacy and Settings> Story Controls.
  3. Select your sharing preferences from the menu provided.

10. Turn off your location

You’ll need to go into your device’s individual preferences for this one, but if privacy is a concern it’s never a bad idea to remove location access, either as a general default or by app.

To turn off your location from an Apple device:

  1. Hit Settings and go to Privacy.
  2. Select Location Services.
  3. Turn off location access by specific apps, or toggle off location access to all apps entirely.  

11. Limit the metadata contained in photos you upload

Metadata is commonly referred to as ‘data about data’, the little building blocks of information such as versioning, time stamps, authors and geographic location that can be useful to applications and enthusiasts make more out of the original file. Unfortunately, however, images uploaded to Instagram stamped with the geographic location of where the photo was taken can provide others with more detail than the photographer wanted, particularly since data miners can then scrape this information for their own use.  

On an Apple device, this can be turned off the same way you limit the Instagram app’s access to your location: by toggling off location services access by the camera. Alternatively, if you want to remove the metadata but leave your location services on, consider an app, free or paid, that will allow you to see and remove metadata before you upload.

12. Check for privacy with new app updates

Like all social media channels, Instagram periodically makes changes to its service, either to introduce new features or set up better security controls and remove unwanted bugs. After you’ve updated, take a quick scan of your privacy settings or search online for the latest version of Instagram with privacy, to see if there have been any concerns over new features and how to turn them off.

Since hitting the scene in 2010, Instagram has developed a fast following: analysis now suggest 32% of all internet users use the image-sharing social media platform, with the majority in their late teens/early twenties. Odds are even if you’re not on Instagram yet you have been curious about joining. The app is exceedingly popular with its fans, from puppy dogs and crazy cats to financial advice, top sporting moments, family fun and rolls of ‘selfies’. By setting up a few added privacy and security controls, users can connect with Instagram while limiting the app’s access to personal information on a level that is comfortable for them, engaging the community and having fun.

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“Silver iPhone 6 on brown furniture” by on Unsplash, licensed under CC BY 2.0