Think twice before clicking on that Shop button
Basically, if you use Instagram, you can guarantee there’s a treasure trove of data they’ve collected on you. How do you think they get those ad recommendations to be so good?
But while you have to accept a fairly egregious level of tracking as a baseline to use the app, there are some things you can do to wrest at least a bit of privacy back from this Facebook-owned company. And speaking of Facebook! You’ve already taken some major steps in reclaiming your privacy by doing week one of our Privacy Refresh, which focused on Facebook. If you haven’t done that yet, why not do the steps from both this week? I promise it will be a max 10 minutes each day and you’ll feel much better afterward.
Monday is so easy! Just put these steps in your calendar, one per day, at the same time every day. Choose at time when you have a lull at work or, say, your lunch hour. Maybe a time when you’d normally be scrolling through Instagram, perhaps?
One way that Instagram tracks your location is through the location identifiers that are automatically added to all of your photos. (This is also a super creepy way that people — like stalkers, for example — can track you.)
In iOS, you can choose to turn off location tracking altogether by going to Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Camera > Never. On Android, it’s Camera > Settings > Location > toggle Off. That will ensure that no location metadata is stored on future images.
But if you want location data on your photos but don’t want that information to be shared with Instagram, you can use a data stripping tool before you upload. If you use an iPhone or iPad, Apple’s new iOS actually lets you do it pretty easily. First, find the photo in your album. Then click “Share.” You should see an option that says “Options.” Click on that and then toggle Location to “off.” That specific photo is now stripped of its location metadata.
On Android, you’ll need to open your Gallery app, tap the photo in question, swipe up to view information, tap “Edit,” and then tap on the red minus sign next to location data in order to remove it. Tap on “Save” and that photo is good to go.
Instagram (and its parent company, Facebook) makes money by collecting data on you and then using it to feed you targeted ads. There are a quadrillion ways that it does this, but one is by tracking when and how you use their new Shop feature. If you click on the Shop button and buy something in-app, that’s more information about you that Instagram didn’t have previously.
Luckily, there’s a pretty easy workaround for this one: Don’t shop in-app. If you see something you think you might like, pull it up on your browser instead. And, yes, Facebook Pixel — which is that little trackers Facebook has planted all over the internet — might be on that site as well, but it’s less direct than if you buy in-app.
Thursdays can be rough. You’re so close to the end of the week, but you’re not there quite yet. So have a little on Thursday by messing with Instagram’s algorithm. Go search for and click on 50 totally random things. Like another 50 things that you’d never usually “like.” Limit your likes on the things you actually like.
The better targeted the ads that Instagram serves you, the more money they make. So take a little money out of their pocket by throwing off your algorithm, at least a little bit.
Friday’s task is pretty easy: Don’t click on any ads. Don’t even slow down to watch them and swipe right through when they pop up in your Stories. Instagram tracks not only which ads you click on but also how long you spend looking at them or swiping through them. So get in the habit, starting today, of really ignoring those ads all together.
While it’s impossible to use Instagram without accepting massive amounts of tracking, it is possible to separate your data sets out, at least a little bit. By creating a business account that’s associated with a different email address, you’re creating a new data set that’s separate from your Facebook account and separate from any other info the company has on you.
Is it still tracking you? Yes. But that information won’t (necessarily) be associated with your main advertising profile that Facebook has on you.
Or pugs. Or ASMR. Or whatever the thing is that triggers your dopamine receptors on Instagram. This year has been hard enough as it is — there’s no harm in a little bit of indulgence.
Social media and other online platforms are here to stay. Have that safety conversation with your child, and gather and activate security tools like Discord’s Family Center.
Your mother-in-law receiving ads for therapy is completely doable and could prove to be great fodder for humor around the dinner table at the next family reunion.