Here’s What You Should Know If You’re Worried About Instagram Collecting Your Data

by Alli Hoff Kosik

Considering privacy concerns have recently become more widespread, it's understandable that more and more social media users are beginning to wonder just where the data they supply to online platforms goes — and how it's used whenever it gets there. After Facebook released a statement on Mar. 25 confirming that its Messenger app had been keeping call and text logs of Android phone users who had opted-in to sharing their contact list, it's worth wondering how other, related social media apps function with the data users willingly give them the right to have. For instance, one of the questions I've been wondering lately is whether or not Instagram collects data, considering the company is owned by Facebook. Bustle has reached out to Instagram for comment on its privacy policy, but did not hear back at time of publication.

First off, here's a quick explainer of Facebook's association with Instagram. According to Instagram, the photo-sharing app announced in September of 2012 that it had been acquired by Facebook. While this development brought together all the best parts of two top-notch social media platforms, it also consolidated both company's data collection efforts as well as added many more levels to their respective privacy policies; and these facts are suddenly seeming like much bigger deals.

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Instagram Can Use Your Facebook Data To Target Ads To You

OK, so now we're on the same page about Instagram's relationship to Facebook. How does this translate to how the photo-sharing app uses user data? According to the Instagram privacy policy instated on Jan. 19, 2013 (a few short months after the Facebook acquisition), Instagram users are subject to data collection, as users of most social media apps are — but, since Facebook acquired them, the data that Facebook has access to is more than just what you give them when you first make your account. Additionally since the acquisition, all ads need to be created through Facebook's Ad Manager, even if the business only wants to run their ad on Instagram and not Facebook. This allows advertisers to access analytics about ad interactions on Facebook, and also allows Facebook to streamline the information it's able to gather about you from your Facebook account and your Instagram account in one place so that ads can be targeted to you across both apps.

This is echoed in Instagram's privacy policy. "When you visit [Instagram], we may use cookies and similar technologies like pixels, web beacons, and local storage to collect information about how you use Instagram and provide features to you," the policy states. "We may ask advertisers or other partners to serve ads or services to your devices, which may use cookies or similar technologies placed by us or a third party."

The Way This Data Is Collected Is Complicated

The policy also notes that Instagram can share information with "businesses that are legally part of the same group of companies that Instagram is part of, or that become part of that group." This means the Facebook family of companies, basically, which includes companies like Instagram and Whatsapp. Facebook became very much affiliated with Instagram when they bought it. The sum total of user information you've provided to both Facebook and Instagram (intentional or not) is therefore subject to use by the whole company. Facebook can use the data collected via Instagram — your posts, your likes, the accounts you're following, and more — to target ads to you seamlessly across both platforms. As detailed in the Wall Street Journal, if you have given permission to the social media platform by agreeing to share your interests with Facebook, or even using your Facebook account to sign into other sites, Facebook can use the data it receives about, for instance, things you've bought, where you've visited in the physical world, and which apps you're using, to target ads. As a company owned by Facebook, Instagram can use the same data for ads — and it can gather its own data based on your Instagram interactions to further target ads to you on Facebook.

I know, it sounds complicated. But, it's worth noting that Facebook has responded to all of this with some changes to their privacy and security functionality. Starting Mar. 28, FB users can access a redesigned, streamlined privacy settings menu that is intended to make it easier for them to control their data, according to TIME. Additionally, users can also more easily view the Facebook (and, therefore, Instagram) data policy so that there's more transparency across the community.

How To Minimize The Amount Of Information Instagram & Facebook Have Access To

Assuming this news about targeted ad content across Facebook and Instagram has you reeling, there are things you can do. Tap "Settings" in the Facebook app, then "Account Settings," then "Ads." Within this menu, you'll be able to read more about which advertisers you've interacted with and what information is being used to make those connections. You can also turn off, or change what ads are being targeted to you.

This is a lot of information for Facebook and Instagram users alike to process — especially given how closely the two popular platforms are tied — but with users growing more interested in the way their data is used by the social media sites we all love, it's possible that we'll be hearing more information about privacy policy transparency in the near future.