How To Stop Instagram From Tracking Everything You Do

Instagram is a massive money-maker. Parent company doesn’t release figures on how much money the division makes but reports claim it generated $20 billion in advertising revenue in 2019 alone–that’s a quarter of Facebook’s entire yearly revenue. Or, to put it another way, more money than YouTube makes for parent company Alphabet.

At the heart of Instagram’s financial success is two things: advertising, the Stories feature it nabbed from Snapchat is now filled with it, and the data that powers all that advertising. There’s a lot of it.

WIRED UKThis story originally appeared on WIRED UK.

Instagram , through its integrations with Facebook, uses your personal information to show you ads that it believes you’ll be mostly likely to click on. This information comes from what you do within the app and Facebook, your phone and your behavior as you move around parts of the web that Facebook doesn’t own.

First off–everything you do on Instagram is tracked. Almost every online service you use collects information about your actions. Every thumb scroll made through your feed provides it with information about your behavior. Instagram knows that you spent 20 minutes scrolling to the depths of your high-school crush’s profile at 2am.

The data that Instagram collects isn’t just for advertising. The company uses your information—for instance, what device you use to login—to detect suspicious login attempts. Crash reports from your phone can help it identify bugs in its code and identify parts of the app that nobody uses. In 2019 it ditched the Following tab, which showed everyone the public posts you had liked.

Other than deleting the app completely there’s very little you can do to stop Instagram from tracking your behavior on its platform, but there are things you can do to limit some of the data that’s collected and the types of ads you see online.

Delete (Some) of Your Data

Want to see the information you’ve given Instagram? Head to the app’s settings page and tap the security option. Here there’s the choice to see the information Instagram has collected about you and download it. If you tap on ‘Access Data’ you’ll be able to see all your password changes, email addresses and phone numbers associated with the account, plus more about how you use the app.

In total there are 25 different categories of information that are collected—these range from interactions with polls that you’ve completed in people’s stories to hashtags you follow and changes to the information in your bio. Instagram’s access tool can be found here.

While it’s possible to see all of this data, there isn’t a lot you can do with it. Your search history can be deleted through the Security menu options, although when you do so you only delete it locally. Instagram and Facebook still know what—or who—you have searched for. “Keep in mind that clearing your search history is temporary, and that searches you clear may reappear in your history after you search for them again,” Instagram says.

It is also possible to delete the contacts that you may have uploaded to Instagram from your phone—this includes names and phone numbers. Uploading your contacts allows Instagram and Facebook to provide friend suggestions but also builds out its knowledge of your social activity.

This Instagram page shows whether you’ve uploaded any contacts and allows you to delete them. Deleting them will not stop new contacts being added to your phone from being uploaded. The setting can be turned on or off through the settings menu on iOS or Android.

The option to download your data includes photos, comments, profile information and more. This has to be requested through the Security menu.

Location

You probably use Instagram on your phone. By default, Instagram’s location gathering abilities are turned-off by default but you’ve probably inadvertently turned the feature on while adding your location to a post or story.