In an earlier post we talked about various apps and the risks associated with them. In these subsequent posts, we will scratch the surface a little bit and dig a little deeper to understand the privacy implications of one app in particular – Instagram. Now, that our very own Big B, Mr. Amitabh Bachhan is going to be an Instagrammer, we need to keep abreast of all the hot gossip without becoming a topic of gossip ourselves.

But first a little about Instagram.

What is Instagram?

Instagram is a photo sharing mobile app that’s available for iOS and Android mobile devices. The app allows you to upload a photo from your mobile device library or take a photo right away and use the app to change the way it looks.

(Source: Instagram Blog)

The app then gives you the option to hashtag and upload it to the Instagram community where people all over the world can like and comment on it. You can also simultaneously share the photo to all the social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Flicker, etc., depending on the ones that you sync to your Instagram account.

(Source: Instagram Blog)

What is the basic information required to create an Instagram account?

Your first and last name, username, birthday, gender, bio, email address, and phone number.

Who can see your photos?

By default, Instagram allows people from all over the world i.e., anyone and everyone to view your profile. Instagram allows you to hashtag (#) your photos, so if you tag your photo as #building, it shows up in any related searches for buildings. If your photo is liked a lot then it can make it to the popular list and every user has the option to follow other Instagram users. Additionally if you have a location associated with a photo, it will appear on the Photo map. It will also show up on geolocation tag page.

(From left, Photo map, Geolocation map)

What happens if you share the photo to other social networks?

The image will be visible on the social network (Facebook, Twitter, Flicker, etc.) and the permalink will be active. This simply means anyone who has the photo’s direct link/URL can access the photo.

What’s more you might just see your photo being thrown up in Google Search. How?

If you use a web viewer to log in to your Instagram account, it authorizes them to access your profile and images.

So basically, if you are not careful enough you can expose a lot about your location, identity, likes and dislikes with this app.

Photos are personal experiences. Instagram is an amazing way to connect with photographers young and old, amateur, and professional all over the world. It gives an insight into places and people we have never met or been to. But when one keeps the aesthetics aside, Instagram is just an easy-to-use app that isn’t devoid of spam, unwanted followers and most of all, a very unclear privacy policy. In a subsequent post we will discuss ways in which you can still happily use the app and safeguard your privacy.

In Instagram the key word is ‘public.’ Once an Instagram profile has been created, anyone can browse these online profiles and “follow” other Instagram users. Here comes the tricky part. How do you deal with privacy then?

First control your visibility. If you want only approved followers to view your profile:

  1. Go to your profile by tapping the far right address card icon.
  2. Tap the settings icon in the upper right corner.
  3. Apple iOS - Scroll to "Photos are private" and toggle the switch to ON to turn on privacy.

    Android - Tap on "Photo privacy" then tap the box to turn on privacy.

What happens then?

Once this is turned on, anyone who wants to see your photos, or followers and following lists, will have to send you a request that will appear in your News > You feed. You can then ignore or approve.

Once you turn your setting to private, only approved followers can view your geolocation, photomaps and hashtags. But there’s a glitch. If you share a private photo on social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, etc., the photo will be visible on that network and the permalink will be active. So anyone with access to that direct link/URL will be able to view the photo.

Now, if you have ever logged into your Instagram account using a web viewer, your images might pop-up in Google search. Third-party sites that are created using the Instagram API can access your profile and photos.

To revoke access to such sites, log into your accounts, select Edit Profile and choose Manage Applications.

It may take some time for these sites and Google to reindex and remove the images, even if you delete your account. You can find more information on how to remove photos here.

That said how do you control abusers and spammers on Instagram?

If you want to block someone, here’s how you do it:

To block or unblock someone:

  1. Go to their profile by tapping  at the bottom of the app and searching for their name or username.
  2. Tap  in the upper-right corner of their profile.
  3. Tap Block User or Unblock User.

However, even if you block someone they might @mention you. This mention will appear in your newsfeed. To prevent it, you have to change your username.

If you find a particular, photo to be abusive, profane or obscene you can tap the "..." below the photo you would like to report and then "Report Inappropriate."

Similarly, you can report a comment in the following ways:

iOS devices:

  • Tap the "comment" button below the photo, swipe your finger to the right over the comment you'd like to flag in order to reveal a trash can icon and a reply icon, then tap the trash icon and select "Delete & Report Abuse."

Android devices:

  • Tap the "comment" button below your photo, tap the pencil icon in the upper right, then tap the X icon next to the comment and select "Delete & Report Abuse."

While flagging comments remember to flag only those that include pornographic content, abuse that has escalated beyond a user dispute, spam, hate speech, personally identifiable information.

Additionally, you can also report a particular user for spamming. Visit their profile page, tap the button in the top right corner and tap “Report for Spam”.

As with any social platform, Instagram isn’t devoid of pros and cons. At the end it’s up to you to decide what information you want to expose and what you want to hold back and to what degree.

What you must also keep in mind here is that, if you have kids who use this app, there could still be people who can start following them using fake names and fake profile photos. Examples here include: making themselves look younger or to be of the opposite sex, or by appearing to be a classmate or peer.

For in depth understanding of how to address abuse on Instagram, please visit: