Instagram is social media application available on all popular mobile devices, the application can be accessed through a computer, however most of its features, like sending messages, uploading content, etc. are only available through the mobile platform. It allows you to post photos and videos, add filters to said photos and videos and to view other people’s uploads. The platform also allows you to follow other people, so you can see their content more easily, having their content presented to you as the first thing you see on your homepage, or “timeline”.
There are several different types of content that can be posted on Instagram, from videos and photos that can be posted on the users own page, to the story photos that can be posted on a section accessible by clicking the users profile picture, or accessible from the timeline section by the users’ followers, these stories are only available for twenty four hours, however the stories can be added to a section available on the users’ page to be stored and accessible indefinitely.
Features of Instagram
Instagram is a content-based platform, in which users can post photos and videos to the platform. Comments can be placed on content users have uploaded. Instagram allows the use of private messaging, content can be deleted after it has been posted, it is also able to be archived, so a user can re-upload it later. “Follow” is very similar to friending a user on any other social media platform, in which the user can access the “followed” users’ content, which the followed user has allowed to be accessible. All the content from followed users is accessible via the timeline section of Instagram. The user is also able to see the activity of any followed users by accessing the “followed” section. The user can also use the internal messaging service, users may also share content posted by either themselves or other users, as long as those contents are allowed to be shared. Another feature of Instagram is Instagram TV service, in which a user may share video content directly to the public platform.
Instagram allows users to post content, that is only available for 24 hours, known as “Stories”, one of these features is the ability to live stream on Instagram. Instagram also facilitates advertisements on the platform, that appear on the user’s timeline. It also allows a user to be able to search for other users, using the search feature. Inside of this feature also have several recommendations for the user to follow.
As of March 2019, The Facebook company is planning to add end-to-end Encryption to the Instagram Instant Messaging services, stating that it is a priority for 2019, and plan to be released by 2020.
Instagram's security options
Manage Privacy Settings
Manage comments on your content
Manage who follows you
Manage who messages you
Manage users (Block, Report)
Manage who can see your story (And who can share it)
Manage inappropriate advertisements
Manage the Geo-Location to photos
How to apply these options
It should be noted that any content that is posted, is available to be seen publicly and can be viewed by other users at their own discretion, unless you have set your account to be private, giving you the ability to choose who can follow your account.
To further explore these features, we created two accounts, one under the age of 18 with the user handle “iamanexample_username”, this account will allow us to see how Instagram reacts to a user who is underage, and a second account over the age of 18 with the username “exampletwoelectricboogaloo”.
As previously mentioned, all accounts come with the ability to enable a privacy setting that, when enabled allows you to choose who can view and follow your content.
This feature can be enabled by going into the settings feature on the users’ account page, and scrolling down until you find the option for “private account”
By default, any information you have shared, is not downloadable via the Instagram platform, however, there are several methods that can get around this restriction by screenshotting the image, using third party applications, etc.
There is also a feature to allow for a user to find relevant content depending on their likes and the follows the user has. This content is available to anyone (if the profile is publicly accessible).
This can lead to the possibility of the user’s content being found depending on which tags are added by the user to their submitted content or by searching for the username of the user, meaning anyone can find their content depending on their privacy.
There is also a content channel feature known as Instagram TV, or IGTV, which allows for 10-minute videos to be recorded, or 60 minutes if you are verified or popular, this can be found at the top right of the timeline section, this feature is only available on mobile phones and cannot be found on the desktop version.
Multiple videos can be posted on this platform, and they are not deleted after a period. Anyone who has an Instagram account can set up a channel to broadcast themselves. There is also a social aspect to Instagram, in which you can comment, tag particular people so they can also see a photo, and privately message some people.
When it comes to commenting on content, if your account is not private then anyone can comment on your photos and tag others to view your photo, however if you have privacy enabled, only people who you have allowed to view your content can do this. By allowing them to follow your account, users can comment on your content, if they tag a user who is not following you or you have not allowed follow you, they will not be able to see that they have been tagged nor be allowed to view the content.
When users comment on your content, if you find that someone has commented in a manner which you find inappropriate, you have the option of deleting that person’s comment; by holding down your finger on the comment in question. You will be prompted with the ability to delete that user’s comment.
When it comes to followers, anyone can follow your account if your account is public; however, if your account is private, they must request to follow your account. If you delete the follow request, the user can still request to follow again for an unlimited amount of times, however that can be remedied by blocking the user.
Regarding messaging on Instagram, anyone can contact the user, regardless of their privacy settings, however the user has the choice of whether they want to converse with another user who they are not following. If they allow the other user to contact them, then they’ll have full ability to contact them via Instagram at any time, however this does not mean that the user is able to view their content if their content is private and they are not following them. the user will also still be able to block the other user if they feel they need to.
However, if the user declines the message then the other user’s message will be deleted, and they will be unable to contact the user anymore unless you initiate contact, or they are followed. This feature can still be abused, where if an inappropriate message or photo is sent, it is still viewable before it is declined. This can be several photos and images If the user has sent a message, that they’d like to un-send, they have the option to un-send that message by holding down on the message and selecting “Un-send message” from the prompt that appears. This will also cause the message on the side of the other participant to also be deleted as well, which is advantageous compared to other social media apps where the message is only deleted on your side, this feature also works the same way in a group chat.
This can be useful for a parent, where if a child gets access to the parents account and starts typing inappropriate content onto a chat, the parent could delete that content. However, there is still the possibility of the content being seen on the other end before it has been deleted.
For whatever reason there may come a time when you wish to block another user. This is easily done, by going on the user’s account to be blocked and going into options on their account (the three dots on the top right for Android devices) you are prompted with option an option to block the user. You can unblock the user if need be by going back to this options menu and unblocking them.
When that user is blocked, they are unable to view your account or any of your content or see any of your activity on the platform such as comments. Another feature that is also available is the report an account feature, when you report an account you are given two types of options to report it as, the first is reporting the account as spam, and the other is reporting it as inappropriate content.
Users can share pictures and videos for a 24-hour period, known as stories, these stories are accessible on user’s page, or on the timeline. From this section you can host live streams, which is represented by a red ring around the story bubble, with live on the bottom of it. Anyone may be able to access the live stream, depending on your privacy settings.
In this section, anyone who is viewing the live stream can comment and react on the live stream, which the user can view and react to.
In a user’s story, the owner can set who is able to view their story, choose who is able to share the story to their friends, and choose who can message you from the story image.
You also can block someone from seeing your story entirely. This feature can be found in the same menu as the previous selection. When you report an account, the information is reviewed by the Instagram moderation team in conjunction with the community guidelines, and the account receives a warning. On the second report, should the report be found valid, the account is deleted. The reported account is never informed on who filed the report, leaving the entire report entirely anonymous.
An option that is restricted to private accounts is the ability to make followers unfollow you, it can be accessed by going onto your followers section and selecting the options buttons beside the user you wish to unfollow your content, giving you the option to make them unfollow you. They will also not be informed that you’ve made them unfollow you and will only notice if they make their way to your page.
Meta-data is used to decide what advertisement are shared on an Instagram feed. However, when it comes to children under 18, there is an option to ask a parent for the allowance of data gathering. This is a due to an US law known as Age-Gating, in which Instagram will automatically make you unfollow brands and make you unable to follow them, until the legal age is met.
This can be skipped, giving no option to return to this option page.
If you see an advertisement you don’t like, you are able to hide the ad by selecting the option on the side of the picture (the three dots), asking why you hid the ad afterwards, to try improving your ads on the platform.
All users can archive data, by selecting the options section on the photo (the three dots), you are presented with a menu in which you can archive the photo. This can be very useful for photos that you wish to get rid of for a select amount of time.
There is also an ability to view all previous stories that have been posted on the account, this can be done by pressing the timer icon on the top of the user’s profile. There are two archives in this area, Post Archive and Stories Archive, from stories archive you can see old story posts and if desired, repost them to your story. On the posts archive, you can access any photos in which you have archived, and if desired, can have these photos reappear on your timeline. You can change between the two archives by selecting the archive name on the top left and choosing between the two.
All the user’s data can be accessed by the user and downloaded. This data contains all the name changes, message logs, photos, videos, searches, previous and current profile picture and stories. When you request these, Instagram asks for your email and sends you all your information within 48 hours that you can look through. This feature can be accessed via desktop or by the app.
We tested this feature by having requesting information from a personal account, the result was that we received an email a few minutes later with a zip file containing a large amount of information about the account. All the information is stored within .json files, and as a result is best opened with a computer. These files can easily be opened with a text editor.
All this data can be accessed without downloading it, by going into the settings, privacy and security, Access data. This allows you to view all the data that could be downloaded without having to.
When it comes to reducing your footprint, most settings can be accessed by going into settings and selecting the privacy and security option.
From here you can enable Private mode, which prevents people from viewing your profile if they are not following you. This setting can be accessed by selecting account privacy within Privacy and Settings.
After this is the ability to disable or remove photos which will appear on your account from other users, this can be done by entering the “Photos and Videos of You” section within Privacy and Security.
From this section you can disable the feature of having photos that are tagged with the user to be added automatically, you can also hide particular photos or videos within the section that are deemed unsuitable by the users. After this it is suggested to reduce who can see your story to certain individuals, as ensuring that you know who is able to see such content, this can be done by going back to the Privacy and Security settings and selecting story controls. After this it is suggested to reduce who can see your story to certain individuals, as ensuring that you know who is able to see such content.
Preventing the ability for your story to be shared is also a good idea, as is preventing your story from getting sent to people you do not know. This feature can be accessed in the Privacy and Security settings, and selecting Story Controls, in this area under the heading “sharing” you are able to disable “Allow Sharing”.
With this, there is also the option to disable your story from appearing on your Facebook story (if you have a Facebook account connected) within the Story Controls, just under the Allow Sharing function. it is automatically disabled.
Within the Story Control settings, there is an option to choose who can message the users about their stories, this can be set either to only allow your followers to message about it, your followers who follow you back, or turn off the messaging about stories entirely. By default, this setting is set to only followers.
There is also a feature to be able to hide your story from users within the Privacy and Settings section, this can be done by selecting the People, and selecting their name to block. This feature can be especially useful in blocking people from your story, but not wanting to block them entirely.
On the opposite side of this, there is a feature to add users to a section known as “Close Friend” , this section where you can post separate stories for certain people, this can be accessed on the Story Control pages, people can be added by selecting them from the menu, or searching for them within the build in search function.
The next feature in the Privacy and settings is the Comment Controls settings, within these settings is the ability to filter any offensive comments that is deemed unacceptable.
From the comment control settings, you can block people from being able to comment on your content, without blocking them from viewing the content. You are also able to apply filters to what comments can be seen from the account, there are two settings that allow this. The first being the hiding of offensive content, that will block any content that could be offensive. The other is manual filtering, which allows the users to block certain types of words from appearing. This feature is most effective in combination with the filtering of Offensive Comments setting enabled.
Talking about the blocking of users, if you have already blocked a user, you are able to unblock users within the “Blocked Accounts” section.
The next feature within the privacy and security settings is the activity settings, this setting, when activated will allow other users to see your activity. By default, this feature is set to active, so it will show all activity. You can disable it within this section. With it disabled, no one will be able to view your activity.
If there ever comes a time in which you have decided to change your password, you are able to do so by selecting the password button within the Privacy and Security section. This can be particularly useful in scenarios where you feel your account has be compromised.
Within the privacy and settings section, you can enable two step authentications. There are two types of authentication that the App allows you to implement, the first being that you will be sent a code via text message if there is a login attempt from an unknown device. The user will have to enter the code to be able to access the account. The second type of two-factor authentication is that you are asked to download the Authentication App, that every time you try log in, it checks if the Authentication App. If you do then it logs in to your account, if not then it asks you for a code from the Authentication App.
After initializing either one of the Two-factor authentication, you are presented with several recover codes in case you have lost your device and are unable to get into your device with the App. These codes are not reusable, but new codes can be acquired. however, it is suggested to screenshot these codes and store them on another device to be able to use these codes properly.
Within Instagram, you can pay for goods and services through the App, with this there is a feature to add an ability to add a payment option. This feature can be accessed within the settings of the App. Within these settings is the ability to establish methods in which you can pay for services.
From this setting, you can set up a payment type on your account, this can be done by entering payment methods option and entering in your card details.
Within these settings you can set a pin on the account for every time there is a purchase. This is to prevent any unwanted purchases to happen on your account, if you set up the pin currently. It is suggested to have this pin set different to any other pin you own.
You can link your other social media accounts to your Instagram account by going into the Account settings and selecting linking accounts. If this feature is implemented, you can share any content that you post on your Instagram to your other social media pages.
Another option within the accounts option is to sync all your contacts to you account, so any accounts that you have, that their phone number connected to their account will be suggested to you. This is handy if you want to find a friend, however it is not suggested to have if your child is using your phone to access Instagram.
When it comes to sharing photos, there is an option to allow the adding of Geo-locations to photos. It is suggested to not use this option at all when posting photos, however if there are already photos that have geolocations posted on them, then they can easily be removed by going into the options on the photo (the three dots) and selecting edit. From here you can select remove the Geo-location by selecting the location and pressing the X to remove it.
This will have to be done individually for each photo. It is also suggested to reduce your information on the platform, like phone numbers. This can be done by going to “Edit Profile”. From here you can remove any information connected to the account, like phone numbers, names etc. In this section it is also recommended to set up a pseudonym in place of their own name, as to hide their identity online.
Another step in reducing your footprint on Instagram is to remove any tags that others have made to your account. This can be done by going onto any photos that they have been tagged in, going to the options on this photo, and selecting the post options. From here you can remove the tag, you will have to do this to every photo that you are tagged in.
Instagram's Best Practice Recommendation Guide
Having reviewed the settings, we will now offer a best practice guide to the settings we suggest be employed to better protect the child’s use of their Apps and their device to increase their safety while accessing online content via Apps:
- Private mode:
We recommend setting the account to private mode so that anyone who wishes to see the content your child has posted must request access to it, giving you more control over the viewership. Plus, it allows the user to have anyone who is following to be kicked from following, so if there is an individual who you don’t trust, you can remove them.
- Make stories un-shareable:
To prevent your child’s story being shared around, turn off the ability to share as to prevent such a thing.
- Disable messaging to stories:
Another feature to add on top of stories is disabling people to comment from the stories
- Disable activity status:
It is suggested to disable activity logs within settings, as to prevent people from knowing the footsteps of your child on the app.
- Enable offensive filtering:
It is highly suggested to enable the filtering offensive comments within the comment controls.
- Enable manual filtering:
It is highly recommending enabling manual filtering on comments to heighten the security of the filtering of comments, where Instagram may miss.
- Disable automatic adding of photos to profile:
it is recommended to disable the ability for a photo in which your child has been tagged in to automatically appear on the child’s account. As to prevent unsuitable content from being attached to the profile.
- Set up two step verification:
It is highly recommended in setting up two-step verification in order to protect your account incase anyone else tries to get access to your account.
- Set up a strong password:
It is recommended to set a strong password for your account, the suggested amount would be something with over twelve letters, with use of numbers and special characters. This is to prevent your account to be easily accessed by hackers.
- Set up a payment pin:
In the scenario that there is a way of payment added to your account, it is suggested to set up a pin that is different than the pin of the card that’s registered
Instagram safety rating
Reflections on Instagram
Regrading Instagram, the feature set of Instagram is rather limited, however, the usability is high, and content is easily accessible. While the developers of Instagram have attempted to provide a safe and secure environment, as we have seen, the platform can be easily manipulated. Age inappropriate content is available on the platform.
Data is shared among partners which increases the risk of user data leakage. Most major Apps will share data but once again, we must reiterate this decreases data safety.
The messaging feature coupled with the commenting feature can lead to a toxic atmosphere, so the addition of the ability to block users, refuse messaging connections and delete inappropriate comments does help somewhat to reduce the possibility of this kind of unwanted toxic behaviour.
However, to borrow a common phrase, some things cannot be unseen, so while content can be blocked, it must be seen before it can be blocked, and this cannot be taken back. This is perhaps one of the biggest flaws of this platform. Due to the ease of the availability of potentially age inappropriate content we don’t not feel this platform is child friendly. While it is not considered to be a dangerous App, we do strongly consider it to be an App which parents will, should they allow their child to use this platform, wish to strictly monitor.