Does Instagram Eavesdrop to Learn What to Advertise?

Posted by Arch on February 15, 2019

After Facebook’s fiasco with the sharing of private user data led to a congressional hearing, it’s only natural that people are a lot more wary of social media platforms and their data collection policies, as well as their targeted advertising methods.

Instagram is an obvious culprit to many people. While some think that this is just crazy talk, some do tend to push the conspiracy theories a bit far out. However, in reality, there are a lot of apps, not just Instagram, that are able to collect certain data from your computer, tablet, or smartphone.

For example, did you know that some apps could turn on your microphone without sending you a notification first? Google Maps will notify you and suggest turning the microphone on so that you can speak directions instead of typing, but it’s not a stretch to assume that this method can also be used to eavesdrop on users.

Managing App Permissions

The good news is that you are able to control how much access an app has to your personal data. For instance, on an iPhone, you’re able to deny access to your microphone to any app you choose.

Simply tap on the Settings app icon on your home screen and then tap on Privacy. You will see a list of apps which have the ability to use your microphone. Use the toggle switches next to the apps to give them access or to take it away.

This should be enough to prevent Instagram and other social media apps from using your microphone. Despite this, there are still rumors about recorded conversations and eavesdropping carried out by major social networking platforms. However, they are just that – rumors. Until there’s concrete proof to the contrary, there is every reason to think that editing microphone permissions is enough to prevent social media apps from using your mic.

How Social Media Apps Gather Your Data

However, what we do know is that Instagram and similar apps do use targeted advertising. This means that whatever data they can collect from you, they will analyze in order to give you suggestions about what to buy.

If you don’t believe this, there’s a simple test you can do which will work for both Instagram and Facebook.

First you’ll log in to your accounts. Then spend a couple of minutes or hours researching products you might want to buy. You don’t have to keep your social media tabs open during this search.

Log back in to your accounts and start going about your social media routine.

It shouldn’t take more than a day before you see ads on your wall for some of the products you were looking into earlier.

This happens because social media apps collect your browsing history information. Sometimes they may even have access to what you’re typing because some of the ads they show are incredibly specific.

How to Limit the Amount of Data You Share

Almost everyone knows that collecting browsing history is a thing these days and that apparently it is not illegal. It’s one of the reasons why a lot of people resort to using a VPN service even when on their smartphones.

Can you do something about this? There is one option you could turn off to limit the amount of data Instagram and similar apps collect.

From the same Privacy tab you used to manage app permissions, scroll down the list until you see Analytics. Tap on it and you should then see three important features:

  1. Share iPhone & Watch Analytics
  2. Share with App Developers
  3. Share iCloud Analytics

You may want to turn all these off to minimize the amount of personal information and browsing habits that are collected.

You should also notice the Advertising icon at the bottom of the Privacy list. You can also hit the switch next to in order to limit ad tracking. This should minimize the amount of targeted ads that will pop up on your screen.

Is There a Catch?

Because all social media platforms are primarily designed for collecting data and advertising and not for connecting with old high school buddies or reacting to your friend’s new evening dress, there’s always a drawback to limiting the data collection from your end.

Disabling many of these features will often cause the app to work slower or not work at all. Sometimes, you may even be asked to enable some of the disabled privacy features in order to proceed with your query.

The Final Word

Is Instagram really eavesdropping on your private conversations? It’s really hard to tell. Just because the NSA did it and just because the technology is available, it doesn’t mean that it’s happening on social media apps too.

However, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Turning off your microphone when you’re not using it or at least blocking Instagram from having access to it might just give you some peace of mind.

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