In an interview last week regarding privacy concerns, Instagram’s CEO, Adam Mosseri, wants you to know: Your privacy isn’t at stake (for now). “We don’t look at your messages, we don’t listen in on your microphone, doing so would be super problematic for a lot of different reasons,” he told CBS’ Gayle King. “But I recognise you’re not gonna really believe me.”
But when you have a public account on Instagram, you’re vulnerable to a lot more than just targeted ads. The app reveals when you’re online, what you’re “liking,” and if your phone contacts are linked, virtually anyone can find you.
In October, The Atlantic addressed the rampant problem of harassment on the app, as enabled by Instagram’s easy set-up of anonymous accounts, like on Twitter.
“But while Twitter now allows users to protect themselves - by muting replies from people who don’t follow you, whom you don’t follow, who aren’t verified, who haven’t confirmed an email address, and more - Instagram has implemented only some of these controls,” writes Taylor Lorenz.
“For instance, on Instagram, you can hide comments from people you don’t follow or who don’t follow you, but you can’t hide them from people who have a default avatar or haven’t confirmed their email address, two hallmarks of burner accounts.”
You can’t become completely invisible on Instagram; at the very least, your username will visible to anyone who searches for it on the platform. Still, if you want to maintain a little extra privacy on the app, it’s important to disconnect your phone number and even sign up using a different email than your personal one to avoid unwanted contact.
Disconnect contacts and social networks
First things first: In order to hide your Instagram from public view, you should make your account private. To do this from a smartphone, tap on the menu on the top right of your profile. (It looks like three horizontal lines.) From here, go to “Settings”, then “Privacy”, then “Account Privacy,” and toggle on the private feature.
On a computer, just go to your profile and “Edit Profile”, and you’ll see the option to make your account private.
If you use a hashtag in any post, don’t worry: Both your profile and the photo will remain private. If you like a public post, however, your username will be visible and remain clickable, though only approved followers can see your actual posts.
Next, you’ll probably want to disconnect your contacts. If your number is attached to your Instagram account, anyone can find your account. To disconnect on a mobile device, go to the menu, “Settings” then “Contacts Syncing” and toggle off “Connect Contacts.”
On a computer go to your profile and “Edit Profile” then “Manage Contacts” and delete any synced contacts. (You’ll still have to toggle off the feature on a smartphone, however.)
If your Instagram is linked to any other social networks, like Twitter or Facebook, users can also find you using these accounts. (Also, any of these third-party apps can use your information at their disposal—according to Instagram’s privacy page, if you grant access to certain third-party apps, some of your private posts can become searchable via Google or any other search engine.)
On a smartphone, go to the menu, then “Settings” then “Account” then “Linked Accounts.” From here, you’ll find a list of social media platforms; if you click on one, it should take you to the appropriate website with the option to disconnect.
If it asks you to authorise Instagram to your account, you may already be disconnected. On a computer, go to your profile, then “Edit Profile” and “Authorised Applications” and revoke access to any apps that are currently connected to your account.
Another way to accomplish this is to visit the platform directly. Here’s how to do it across a few platforms:
On Facebook, go to your settings and you’ll see a list of linked platforms. Check off Instagram to remove its access.
On Twitter, go to your linked apps and remove access to Instagram.
On Tumblr, go to your settings and revoke access to Instagram under “Applications.”
Hide your activity status
Your activity status on Instagram allows any account you follow or message to see when you were last on the app.
To turn this feature off on a smartphone, go to the menu, “Settings” then “Privacy” then “Activity Status” and toggle this option off. On a computer, go to your profile then “Edit Profile” then “Privacy and Security” and disable the visibility of your activity status.
Know that you also won’t be able to see the activity status of other users while this remains off. If you really want, however, you can toggle the option on and off for a brief moment to view someone else’s activity status.
Disable your Instagram stories from being shared
Anytime you decide to share an Instagram story on a public account, any of your followers can share that story in a direct message to any other user. If you want to disable this feature on your smartphone, go to the menu, then “Settings” then “Privacy” and “Story.”
Here you can disable “Allow Sharing as Message.” (Any user could still screenshot your story; that said, it’ll still curb their efforts to try and share it.) On a computer go to your profile and “Edit Profile” then “Privacy and Security” and toggle off “Allow Sharing.”
There are useful features under the story privacy settings, too. You can hide any future Instagram story from certain people at your discretion (sorry, Mum) or create a “Close Friends” list. You share future stories with only a few select people using this list.
Block comments and create a manual filter
Let’s say you have one particularly enthusiastic follower leaving comments on your every post. Luckily, you can preemptively block comments from certain users without them knowing.
On a smartphone, go to the menu, then “Settings” then “Privacy", followed by “Comments” and “Block Comments From” and add any users you want. Here you’ll also find the option to hide offensive comments as well as create a manual filter that blocks certain words or phrases from showing up in your comments section.
On a computer, go to your profile, then “Edit Profile” then “Privacy and Security” and “Edit Comment Settings” under “Comments.” Here you can block certain words or phrases from appearing in your comments, but you’ll have to use a smartphone to block specific people from commenting.
And if you’re still worried about your profile’s privacy, here are few other necessary tips from Reddit.
For one, you might want to create an account using a new or different email address than your personal one; while you can hide your email from your profile and make your account private, there’s still a chance a user can find your Instagram profile using that email.
You might also want to use a profile photo that isn’t easily reverse image-searched and traced back to a Facebook profile, for example. Your profile photo is public to anyone, meaning you can still be found despite all your efforts to remain private.