Posting your pictures online is fun. You can have your friends see what you are up to all the time. But you don’t want all of your pictures to go everywhere. So you decide to adjust some settings and only have your friends see your pictures.
So far so good, but some might not realise you are not ready yet. Especially when using Instagram. Because Instagram pictures are easily made public, even if your settings are set to ‘private’.
If you set your Instagram settings to ‘private’, you are telling Instagram that only your followers, the people you approved to follow you, can see the pictures. As Instagram puts it in their Privacy & Safety Center:
“You can make your posts private in the Instagram app so only approved followers can see them.”
“Once you make your posts private, people will have to send you a follow request if they want to see your posts, your followers list or your following list.”
The setting is quite simple, you have to do it on your phone (Instagram is a mobile app first and foremost). Quick and easy and now you’re safe.
Well, not really…
You can see Private Instagram Photos without an account!
It turns out that even though you put your account on private, many people can still see your photos. Especially if you connect your Instagram to other social networks.
I noticed this when I saw a tweet from someone with an Instagram picture in it. Clicking on the link brought me directly to the picture. Which was nice. I then thought, ‘let’s see what other pictures this person shared’. So I clicked on that person’s Instagram account and found that it was set on private. I couldn’t see any other pictures unless I requested to follow him.
Unless I went back to Twitter. Where that person had shared many more pictures using Instagram. Every link he shared I could click on and see the image. And even though this person shared it on Twitter himself, I doubt that he realises that the privacy settings he set up on Instagram don’t really make sense this way.
I tested this myself to see what happened if I would set my Instagram account to ‘private’ and then share the image through Twitter. It first got a response from Barry who had no idea what I was testing, but the most interesting part for me was whether or not others could now see my picture. And it turns out they could. The link itself is public if you share it. The link you see in the tweet was clickable and went straight to my Instagram picture, for any of my 10.6K followers on Twitter to see.
When looking at my tweet using a mobile app the picture even showed up in the stream, you don’t even have to click through, even though it is supposed not to show.
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It’s not a hack!
What we see here is not a hack, it’s a privacy matter that you have to think about yourself. Instagram actually ‘warns’ for this to happen in their privacy settings:
“If someone with a private profile shares a photo or video to a social network (like Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and so on) using Instagram, the image will be visible on that network and the permalink will be active. In other words, the photo will be publicly accessible by anyone who has access to its direct link/URL.”
So connected accounts can show the image, as can a direct link.
So what you might say, you just have to be careful. Indeed, that’s it, you ‘just’ have to be careful. But to be honest, I doubt many people will actually take the time to read all the text in the Instagram Privacy Center, let alone even go there. And especially where Instagram is being used a lot by young people this should have been communicated somewhat better I think.
But there are precautions you can take:
- Don’t share on external social networks if you don’t want it to be public. Yes, that is an ‘easy’ thing to say, but it starts with the realization of what you are sharing. And where you are sharing.
- Disconnect any accounts you are not using frequently.
- Check your privacy settings on the connected accounts: if you have your Instagram connected to Facebook, make sure your sharing settings on Facebook are not set to ‘public’ but to for example ‘friends’. You can do this by finding the Instagram app in your applications settings where you can set the visibility per app.
- Just connect with people you know: others can take your photo link and share it, once they are your friends. You want to make sure only your friends are the ones who can see so that if someone does share without your consent, you know who to talk to.
- Turn off the ‘Add to Photomap’ function for the images you don’t want publicly shared. It’s a nice feature that shows where your pictures were taken, but the map is viewable from your profile, so you might want to think twice.
- Delete old photos that you don’t need to have public anymore. Just to be safe, go through your Instagram feed and delete any photo which you feel might not be fit able for public viewing. Just to be on the safe side.
- Block ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends. Relationship over? Be careful with the haters. They might just take your pictures and show them elsewhere if things go bust. And if they spot a picture of you with your new loved one, who knows what they will do…
But most importantly: realise what you are doing. If you share pictures online, even settings might not prevent the images from being shared. Your images online are not as private as you might think they are.