How to Use Instagram Privacy Settings

Instagram shares your location data and other information with Facebook. These steps will limit how much is shared.

Instagram app on phone iStock-1046023150

Facebook owns Instagram. The two companies share infrastructure, technology, and user data, and if you’re an Instagram user, your personal information is used to streamline the functions of the apps, target ads, and assist with a variety of other business purposes.

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Instagram has fewer privacy controls than Facebook, but there are settings you can adjust if you want to enhance your privacy.

You can’t keep data collected by Instagram away from its parent company, but you can adjust how certain information is used. Among other controls, you can curb the app’s access to location information, limit your posts to a select audience, and adjust some targeted advertising.

Most users access Instagram through the app, but some of the platform’s privacy settings are accessible only when you log in using a browser.

Take Away Instagram’s Location Privileges

Giving Instagram access to your location lets you automatically tag your posts with your whereabouts. Instagram also uses location data to show you more relevant content when you’re using the Explore tab, which lets you browse posts from people other than those you follow.

But your location data can also be used to tailor ads to you, and not just on Instagram—the data is connected to your Facebook profile. If you’re not comfortable with that, it’s easy to turn off the app’s access to your device’s GPS. You can always switch it back on later if you want to tag posts, or you can manually enter your location.

Facebook and Instagram can still learn your location using other information, including your IP address and WiFi connection, but revoking GPS permissions will reduce the accuracy of the data.

On an iPhone: Go to the phone’s Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Instagram > Never.

On an Android phone: Go to the phone’s Settings > Location > App access to location > Instagram > Deny. (These instructions are for a Google Pixel; they may vary slightly on some devices. On other versions of Android, Location settings are sometimes under a Permissions menu.)

Keep Posts Between You and Your Friends

By default, Instagram makes your account visible to anyone using the app. But you can make your account private. Then people will need to send a request to follow you before they can see your posts and videos.

Instagram says turning the setting on won’t affect anyone who already follows you. They’ll still be able to see your posts.

On the app: Go to your profile by clicking the icon in the bottom right > Open the menu in the top right > Settings > Privacy > Switch on the Private Account toggle.

Make Ads a Little Less Personal

You can’t opt out of targeted advertising altogether, but there are a couple of tools that will limit how Instagram uses your data for ads—if you know where to find them.

One setting prevents Facebook and Instagram from using data sent by third parties for advertising. The other will stop Facebook from showing you ads on websites not owned by the company, based on your activity on Facebook’s own services. In both cases you’ll still see the same number of ads, but Facebook says some categories of your data will be off-limits.

Here’s the catch: You have to adjust the second setting on Facebook, not on Instagram. When you do that, the company will apply the change across all its services as long as it can match your various accounts together, according to Stephanie Chan, a company spokesperson.

The second set of instructions are for a web browser, but you can adjust the settings in the Facebook mobile app as well. If you’re not a Facebook user, there’s no way to adjust that second setting.

On the app: Go to your profile by clicking the icon in the bottom right > Open the menu in the top right > Settings > Ads > Data About Your Activity From Partners > Switch the toggles off for all the accounts listed.

On a computer: Log in to Facebook > Click the downward arrow in the top right corner > Settings & Privacy > Settings > From the menu on the left, select Ads > Ad Settings > Ads Shown Off Of Facebook > Switch the toggle off.

(Facebook is rolling out updates to its advertising settings. The last few steps may be slightly different on some accounts, but these instructions will get you there either way.)

Limit the Ads You See on Certain Topics

Instagram makes most of its money on ads, and there’s no way to stop them. You can choose to avoid ads on a few select topics, though. Navigate to the ad topic preferences menu, and you can tell Instagram you want to see fewer ads related to alcohol, parenting, pets, social issues, elections, and politics.

You’ll find the same settings on Facebook accounts. In both cases, the company doesn’t guarantee you won’t see ads related to these subjects altogether, but it may be worth trying. These settings won’t do much to protect your privacy, but they’re one of a few ways you can adjust your social media feed for a healthier and more pleasant experience.

On the app: Go to your own profile by clicking the icon in the bottom right > Open the menu in the top right > Settings > Ads > Ad Topic Preferences > Tap the subject you want to avoid > Save.

Protect Your Account From Hackers

One of the easiest ways to boost your security is to use multifactor authentication (MFA), aka two-factor authentication. It’s available for many services; you may already use it for your email or bank account.

If you turn it on, Instagram will text you a code that it will use to confirm your identity whenever you log in from a new browser or an unfamiliar device.

Experts agree that text messages aren’t the most secure option for multifactor authentication, and for an extra boost, Instagram will also let you set up multifactor authentication using an app on your phone , such as Google Authenticator or Duo Mobile.

With MFA on, no one will be able to log in to your account unless they have access to both your phone and your password.

On the app: Go to your profile by clicking the icon in the bottom right > Open the menu in the top right > Settings > Security > Two-Factor Authentication > Get Started.

Limit Data Sharing With Other Companies

You can connect Instagram to third-party apps such as VSCO, Sprout Social, and Later, which some people use to do things like schedule posts, edit photos, and analyze followers’ activity.

Apps connected to your Instagram account can access some of your data. The more apps you tie together, the more vulnerable you are to security and privacy risks. Third-party apps played a big role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the data leak that ultimately led to the demise of Google’s social media network, Google+.

Instagram makes it easy to examine what kind of data and permissions you’ve made available to other apps, and revoke access for apps you’re uncomfortable with or don’t use anymore.

On the app: Go to your profile by clicking the icon in the bottom right > Open the menu in the top right > Settings > Security > Apps and Websites > Active > Next to a particular app, tap Remove.

Decide Who Can Message You

Messages are a core component of the Instagram experience. Anyone you’re following can send you a message, but by default, when someone you aren’t following tries to contact you their messages get sent to a “message requests” tab.

You can read messages in the requests folder without the other person knowing that you’ve looked at them, which lets you get a little preview before you decide to open up a dialogue.

However, you can decide not to receive these messages at all. Or, for people you’re friends with on Facebook but not Instagram, you can also go in the opposite direction and send every message straight to the regular chat folder.

Instagram lets you fine tune how you want these messages to be handled. You can make specific choices for different categories of people, such as friends of friends, or people you haven’t followed back.

On the app: Go to your profile by clicking the icon in the bottom right > Open the menu in the top right > Settings > Privacy > Messages > For the various potential connections, tap and select how you want to be contacted.

Stop Syncing Your Contacts

Instagram uses a number of techniques to recommend new accounts for you to follow. One method is to periodically scan the contacts on your phone if you’ve granted Instagram permission to access them.

Once you grant any company access to your contacts list, it’s hard to know just what they’ll do with it. A number of reports, including one from researchers at Princeton and Northeastern universities in 2018, have suggested that Facebook used information from users’ address books to target their friends with ads.

If you’ve given Instagram permission to scan your contacts, it’s not too late to change your mind.

On the app: Go to your own profile by clicking the icon in the bottom right > Open the menu in the top right > Settings > Account > Contacts Syncing > Switch the toggle off.

That doesn’t delete contacts from your Instagram account that the company has already uploaded, however. You can do that by logging in to Instagram using a computer.

On a computer browser: Log in to Instagram > Click on your profile picture in the top right to open the menu > Settings > Manage Contacts > Delete All.

Don’t Broadcast That You’re Online

A few years ago Instagram launched a feature that lets users see when people they follow or message with are online. That might be handy for deciding when to send a friend your favorite new meme, but seeing other users’ online status requires that you make yours public, too.

If that doesn’t seem like a worthwhile trade, you can switch the feature off.

On the app: Go to your profile by clicking the icon in the bottom right > Open the menu in the top right > Settings > Privacy > Activity Status > Switch the toggle off.

Limit How Instagram Uses Your Account to Build Its Network

You may have noticed that when you follow a new account, Instagram recommends that you check out a few similar users. The same thing happens in reverse: Instagram will recommend your account to other people.

That’s useful if you want to attract more followers, but you can also choose to make yourself harder to find. You’ll need to use a browser, not the app, to access the appropriate setting.

On a browser: Log in to Instagram > Click on your profile picture in the top right to open the menu > Profile > Edit Profile > Uncheck the box for Similar Account Suggestions.

Protecting Your Online Privacy

It doesn’t matter whether you’re on your phone or laptop: Your personal information can leave a digital trail of where you go online. On the “Consumer 101” TV show, Consumer Reports expert Thomas Germain explains to host Jack Rico what to do to protect your online privacy.


Headshot image of Electronics editor Thomas Germain

Thomas Germain

I want to live in a world where consumers take advantage of technology, not the other way around. Access to reliable information is the way to make that happen, and that's why I spend my time chasing it down. When I'm off the clock, you can find me working my way through an ever-growing list of podcasts. Got a tip? Drop me an email ( thomas.germain@consumer.org) or follow me on Twitter ( @ThomasGermain) for my contact info on Signal.