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How to protect your privacy on Instagram

How to protect your privacy on Instagram


Keep your stories and feed posts locked down

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

My Instagram profile probably reveals more personal details about me than any other social network page. As a result, I started to get creeped out after I realized just how many people were following me I didn’t actually know.

Locking down your privacy on Instagram can be as simple as setting your profile to “private.” But you can get a lot more granular than that, and there is a range of other protections you can put in place. You can keep your account public but make it a little more protected, or even add stricter protections than simply flipping the private profile switch gives you.

If you really want to keep your account safe, here’s what you can do.

Set your account to private

Setting your account to private is the simplest thing you can do to lock down your profile. It means that, going forward, no one can see your photos or stories unless you approve them.

Once your account is private, new people who visit your profile will only see your name and profile image. From there, they can request to follow you, and you have to confirm their request before they can see your photos or stories.

To set your account to private:

  • Go to Instagram’s settings menu. It’s hidden away on your profile page behind the hamburger button in the top-right corner. That will open a side menu with several choices; you can access your settings from the cog that appears at the very bottom.
  • From there, go to “Privacy” > “Account Privacy” and activate the “Private Account” setting.

One important caveat: anyone who already follows you at the time you change your account to private will still be following you. That means if there’s anyone you want to deny access to, you have to remove them from your followers list.

To remove someone who’s following you: 

  • Go to your profile, and tap on your follower count
  • Scroll through your list, and tap the big “Remove” button beside the name of anyone you want to get rid of

Protect your stories

Instagram lets you limit who sees your stories (the reel of images that disappear after 24 hours) and stop people from sharing them even further.

To hide your story from specific people:

  • Go to “Settings” > “Privacy” > “Story” 
  • Choose “Hide Story From.” It’ll open a list of your followers. Tap the circle beside their name to cut off access.

You can also prevent people from sharing your story:

  • Go to that same page (“Settings” > “Privacy” > “Story”). Scroll down to the bottom where there’s a section labeled “Sharing.”
  • You’ll see an option that says “Allow Sharing.” Turning this off will prevent people from messaging your stories to others.
  • You can also turn off “Allow Resharing to Stories” to prevent people from adding your posts to their stories.
  • To stop your stories from being shared to Facebook, disable “Share Your Story to Facebook.” This means they’ll only post to Instagram.

Finally, you can use Instagram’s Close Friends feature to limit the reach of your stories to specific people. 

  • To set who’s in that group of people, go to “Settings” > “Privacy” > “Story” 
  • Tap under Close Friends and start adding people. People won’t be notified when they’re added (or removed) from this group.

Block people from seeing your feed

When it comes to protecting the photos and videos posted to your feed, it’s much more of an all-or-nothing scenario than it is with stories.

If you don’t want to go private, you can still block individual users:

  • To block someone, you first have to go to their account. On their profile page, tap the three-dotted menu in the upper-right corner. 
  • Click on “Block” 

Note: you can also restrict people from this menu. If you restrict them, they can still see your content, but their comments will only appear to you, and they won’t be able to see when you’re online. 

Make yourself less visible

There are a few things you can do to make yourself a little bit harder to find (and give out less information about yourself in the process).

First, you can stop sending your contacts to Instagram. You might have given Instagram access to your contacts initially to help find your friends when signing up, but it means that Instagram knows who’s in your phone book. To turn it off:

  • Go to “Settings” > “Account” > “Contacts Syncing” 
  • Disable “Connect Contacts”

You can also stop Instagram from suggesting your account to others. This happens when someone follows a new account: Instagram will then display accounts it believes are “similar,” which you could be grouped into. You can’t change this using your mobile app. To turn this off:

  • Sign into Instagram’s website, and go to your profile 
  • Select the “Edit Profile” button
  • Uncheck the very last option, “Similar Account Suggestions”

Finally, it’s worth checking to see whether any of your Instagram posts come up in a Google search. By default, Instagram doesn’t let Google find your photos, but if you ever signed into a third-party web viewer (and you might have in the years before Instagram was available on the web), it’s possible that site is scraping your profile and posting it for all to see.

If one or more of your posts does come up in your search, the first step to getting rid of it is to cut off third-party apps’ access to your Instagram account. You can do that on the mobile app:

  • Go to “Settings” > “Security” > “Apps and Websites” > “Active” 
  • Remove any apps you aren’t using anymore

Protect what people see about you

You can drill down even further in limiting what in your account is visible to other people.

One big thing you can do is turn off your activity status so people can’t see when you’re online. (Be aware that, if you disable this, you won’t be able to see when other people are online either.) 

  • Go to “Settings” > “Privacy” > “Activity Status”
  • Disable “Show Activity Status”

You might also want to review tagged photos before they’re posted to your profile. If you have a public account, reviewing every tag can stop spammers from filling up your profile. And if you have a private account, this can stop your friends from sticking an unflattering picture on your profile. To do this:

  • Go to “Settings” > “Privacy” > “Tags”
  • Enable “Manually Approve Tags”

Stop saving your posts and stories

You may not actually want to save the photos and videos you post to Instagram, especially your disappearing stories. There are a couple of things you can do to stop that.

To stop your stories from being saved:

  • Go to “Settings” > “Privacy” > “Story” 
  • Turn off two settings. The first is “Save to Camera Roll” (on iOS) or “Save to Gallery” (on Android), which saves your stories to your phone. The second is “Save to Archive,” and turning that off stops Instagram from hanging onto your stories for you to view later after they’ve disappeared.

If you also want to keep your feed posts inside of Instagram:

  • Go to “Settings” > “Account” > “Original Posts” 
  • Disable all three options (Save Original Posts, Save Posted Photos, and Save Posted Videos) 

This will prevent the posts from being stored locally on your phone, but it also means that your only copy will be on Instagram.

Get rid of personalized ads

Instagram ads are based on websites you visit and apps you use. If you want to put a stop to this, it’s a little bit trickier. You actually have to hop over to Facebook, which owns Instagram.

To disable ad personalization, you first need to go to Facebook’s ad settings. 

  • On mobile, in the Facebook app, tap the hamburger menu in the top right corner, then choose “Settings & Privacy” > “Settings”> “Ad Preferences” > “Ad Settings” 
  • On the web, just click here to go to the “Your Ad Preferences” page, and then click on “Ad settings” to reveal your options.
  • You’ll want to turn off the top two options: “Ads based on data from partners” and “Ads based on your activity on Facebook Company Products that you see elsewhere.” This will stop Facebook from targeting you based on information it obtains outside of Instagram.

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