It's no secret that Instagram (and other social media platforms) are collecting data to better understand user preferences and deliver customized ads. But does it go further than just what we're doing on our devices?
Do they have access to our microphones, listening in on conversations and using the data to serve us more relevant ads? The answer might shock you! Follow along as we look at the evidence around whether Instagram listens to you.
Is Instagram really listening to us when we have those heated debates with friends or private conversations with our partners? It's the question that is on everyone's mind and has become a hot topic of debate. Hundreds, if not thousands of users have taken to Reddit and other online forums to complain about experiencing targeted ads after having conversations about specific topics. How can this be possible?
The answer lies in data mining and machine learning algorithms used by Facebook and Instagram that collect data from users in order to better understand their preferences and serve them more relevant ads. Although it may seem like Instagram is listening in on your conversations, the reality is much less sinister than what some may think.
Adam Mosseri, the CEO of Instagram has dismissed this myth in interviews saying “We don’t look at your messages, and we don’t [listen] to your microphone- ever”. But not all companies are as trustworthy as Instagram when it comes to this issue.
There have been several cases where tech giants such as Apple have been caught accessing user data without their permission or even worse, using their microphones for recording audio. These examples illustrate why users are so wary of companies who claim they’re not accessing such information. It seems users will remain skeptical until there is tangible proof that these platforms aren't snooping on us- which doesn't look likely any time soon.
We’ve all had that sudden moment of realization when we see an Instagram ad for something we just talked about with a friend. It certainly raises questions about whether our private conversations are being eavesdropped on by the social media giant, but the real answer lies in data tracking, not espionage.
Big corporations like Instagram track every action of their users on their platform, from the type of photos they post to the locations they mesh with in. All this data is used to build a persona of the user and better understand their likes, dislikes, and interests. This helps them serve more relevant ads based on what they think you might be interested in purchasing.
You see, any sort of eavesdropping would be a huge risk legally for companies like Instagram and could result in serious financial consequences if caught breaking laws in this way. Therefore, it is much more likely that these ads are served to us based on our public interactions with the platform- from tags added onto posts to ads we view (or skip) and our location settings. The use of targeted ads remains somewhat controversial, as many find it intrusive especially when it comes to talking about topics online that might seem personal.
And yet others believe it’s an effective way for small businesses to reach potential customers and gain further exposure through social platforms like Instagram. Indeed interviews with experts seem to support this notion saying “targeted ads work because people can relate more closely to products that are tailored towards their needs or wants."
Although it’s clear why big tech companies target us with personalized ads, it still doesn’t really explain how they know so much about us without us telling them directly (through privacy forms or surveys). Until further clarification is provided by corporations logging our activity online– if ever – suspicious minds will continue wondering if our conversations are recorded without consent despite evidence suggesting otherwise.
So, how do you find out if Instagram might have access to your phone microphone?
For iPhone users, you can go to Settings > Privacy > Microphone, where you’ll find a list of the apps that have requested permission to use the microphone on your device. You should be able to see if Instagram has permission here.
Android users can open up their settings and scroll down to Apps & Notifications, where they will see all of their installed apps listed. Find Instagram in this list and then select Permissions. Here you will find a full list of what type of information the app has access to, including the microphone.
From the permissions page, for both Apple & Android, you will now have the option to uncheck the access to the microphone (or any other feature) if you’d like to revoke it.
It’s worth noting that checking and revoking these permissions will not stop Instagram from collecting data about its users — it just won’t have access to the microphone anymore. The social media platform will still be able to collect information by tracking every action you make on their platform.
A great way to understand the type of data apps collects on you is to 'request data'.
In an ever-changing digital world, it is important to stay conscious of our data privacy. As more and more users are spending time on Instagram, have you ever wondered what kind of data the social media giant has stored about you? If you haven't ever downloaded your data, this will probably shock you!
Instagram meticulously tracks each and every action taken in their app - from the posts liked to comments made, videos watched, times of most activity as well as hashtags used. This is all done so they can enhance the user experience while also providing marketers with laser-focused ads tailored to target specific audiences.
To download your data, simply open up your settings in the Instagram app, navigate to Privacy & Security, and select ‘Data Download’ – here you will be prompted to fill out a form that requires basic information such as name and email before requesting a download file containing all necessary data stored by Instagram related to you. Once completed, you will receive an email from Instagram informing you once the file has been created and is ready for download via a secure link sent within the message.
When downloading this link make sure your device can handle .zip files as this is what accompanies all requests for personal data including photos, stories, profile details, etc.
Like many other apps, Instagram requires access to a device’s microphone for certain features. For example, if you want to record a video or go live on Instagram, then permission to use the mic is required. Similarly, if you are using features like voice messages in direct messages or group chats, then again that feature needs access to the microphone.
Contrary to popular myths that microphone access is used to listen to you, the truth is not so interesting. The permission for microphone access is simply so that you can utilize the features of the app.
As discussed earlier, this can be easily achieved by navigating to your phone settings, and to the Instagram app. Next, look for app permissions, and revoke microphone permission.
If you wish to enable the microphone for Instagram, you can follow the same steps as above. Open your settings and look for app permissions in regards to Instagram, then select microphone access and toggle it on.
No, disabling your microphone will not stop the collection of data by Instagram; it will simply stop the app from having access to the microphone. Instagram uses other methods and data points to track users’ activities on their platform.
This is due to the tracking methods of ad targeting used by Instagram. By understanding the type of content you like and engage with, they are able to better tailor ads specific to your interests. Websites and apps also track cookies that help them understand what kind of products you have searched for in the past. All this data helps brands target relevant audiences with their ads.
To revoke camera access to the Instagram app, navigate to your phone settings and look for app permissions. Look for the Instagram app and select camera access to revoke the permission.
Apps like Instagram and Facebook track everything about their users on their platforms. If you and your partner are on the same network (IP address), then Instagram already knows that you live together. It is likely that Instagram may show your husband ads for things that you've searched for since you both are on the same IP.
If Instagram has reason to believe, based on your actions on their platform, that a certain ad might interest you, then it can go a step further and show it to other Instagram users on the same IP address.
No. Smartphone apps do not have the capability to listen to your conversations. All-access given to microphone permission is used for the purpose of using app features such as recording a video or voice message in direct messages/group chats, etc.
Additionally, it would not be viable both in terms of cost and super problematic in terms of legal repercussions for any smartphone provider to track and record hundreds of millions of users for advertising purposes.
To conclude, there is no hard evidence that Instagram, or any other social platform for that matter, is eavesdropping on its users. Yes, many apps require permission to use smartphone microphones, but, that is only so that the users can utilize the features that the services provide.
The reason people see an advertisement for something they just spoke about has a lot to do with traffic, and nothing to do with Facebook or Instagram listening to users' conversations. Also, it has a little bit to do with, as Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, said, 'dumb luck'.