Monday, January 4, 2021

Instagram - Harvesting Your Personal Information

For those of you who use Instagram or are thinking about using Instagram and even for those who never intend to use Instagram, the following posting may be of interest.


In late December 2020, Instagram, a photo and video sharing social networking service wholly owned by Facebook, released an update to its Terms of Use.  Most of us mindlessly click "accept" on these wordy, mind numbingly boring legal agreements without thinking about the potential repercussions, particularly to our privacy.  As we know from years of experience with Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg simply cannot learn enough about our personal lives as part of his mandate to further enrich himself by supersaturating us with advertising as you will see.


Here is a link to the latest version of Facebook's Terms of Use (ToS) for Instagram.  The Instagram ToS opens with explaining to its users the wonderful services that it offers:


1.) Offering personalized opportunities to create, connect, communicate, discover, and share.


2.) Fostering a positive, inclusive, and safe environment.  We develop and use tools and offer resources to our community members that help to make their experiences positive and inclusive, including when we think they might need help. 


3.) Developing and using technologies that help us consistently serve our growing community.


4.) Providing consistent and seamless experiences across other Facebook Company Products.  Instagram is part of the Facebook Companies, which share technology, systems, insights, and information-including the information we have about you (learn more in the Data Policy) in order to provide services that are better, safer, and more secure. 


5.) Ensuring access to our Service.  To operate our global Service, we must store and transfer data across our systems around the world, including outside of your country of residence. The use of this global infrastructure is necessary and essential to provide our Service. 


6.) Connecting you with brands, products, and services in ways you care about.  We use data from Instagram and other Facebook Company Products, as well as from third-party partners, to show you ads, offers, and other sponsored content that we believe will be meaningful to you. And we try to make that content as relevant as all your other experiences on Instagram.


7.) Research and innovation.  We use the information we have to develop, test, and improve our Service and collaborate with others on research to make our Service better and contribute to the well-being of our community. This includes analyzing the data we have about our users and understanding how people use our Services, for example by conducting surveys and testing and troubleshooting new features.


Let's look at one interesting aspect of Instagram's ToS that you probably weren't aware of:


Any content that you post on Instagram is essentially owned by Instagram (no matter what they may say) until you delete it from their service.  You are granting them a free licence to copy, distribute or modify your content which can also be transferred to another "owner" without your express permission.


You will notice that Instagram refers to its "Data Policy" which you have to click on to access.  Let's look at what is hidden in its key moneymaking machine.  Instagram collects the following types of information from its account users, remembering that the information that users give the company can be stored anywhere in the world:


1.) content and communications including the location and date that a photo was taken (i.e. metadata) and can also see what you see when you use Instagram's camera feature to take a photo:


2.) information about the people, accounts and groups that you interact with across Facebook's products, your contact information if you choose to upload, sync or import it (i.e. your address book) as well as your call log and SMS log history (i.e. text messages):


But, it is most reassuring to know that Instagram only uses this information to help you and others find people that you may know!


3.) your credit and debit card numbers and other card information if you use Facebook's products to make a purchase or complete other financial transactions:


4.) information about your computer, phone, connected televisions or other web-connected devices keeping in mind that all of this is being done to "better personalize the content (including ads) or features that you see when you use Instagram:


This information that users give to Instagram includes the device's operating system, hardware and software versions, battery level, signal strength, available storage type, browser type, file names and plugins, mouse movements and whether a window is in the foreground or background. Instagram also collects information from your device signals including Bluetooth, information about nearby Wi-FI\i access points, beacons and cell towers as well as your GPS locations.  They also collect the name of your mobile operator or Internet Service Provider, language, time zone, mobile phone number, connection speed and information about other devices that are nearby or on your network.  What I found most interesting is that Instagram also collects identifiers which include identifiers from games that you play on your device, apps that are loaded on your device and accounts that you use.  While they don't explicitly state this, one wonders if they know who you bank with and any other accounts that you sign into from your device.


Here is the complete list of information that Instagram harvests:



See, it's all good.  Facebook/Instagram is a benign entity that only wants your personal information to improve and personalize your experience when using their products as shown here:


They also need this information to:


1.) promote safety, integrity and security


2.) communicate with its users


...and, most importantly, research and innovate for social good as shown here:


That makes it all worthwhile, doesn't it?  It gives users a warm and cozy feeling knowing that providing their most personal information to a corporate entity is improving society.


Let's close this posting with a couple of thoughts.  There are two lessons that can be learned from Instagram:


1.) If it seems too good to be true (i.e. a free service), it probably is.


2.) Nothing in life is free.


Like Facebook before it, what started out as a benign social networking service has morphed into something that is used to harvest our personal information with the goal of making the service's major shareholders even wealthier than they already are.  Users get a few shiny baubles and mirrors as a "reward" for sharing their most personal data with a money-making machine that benefits the very few people that reside at the top of the technoplutocracy.

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