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Instagram is a convenient and fun site for sharing your videos and photos with friends, family and colleagues. But the service, which by default allows anyone to view your profile, can leave you open to identity thieves if you don’t take steps to protect yourself.

You can protect your privacy and personally identifiable information (PII) on Instagram by making sure you adjust your privacy settings according to your tolerance for risk. These tips will familiarize you with your privacy options and give you step-by-step instructions for enabling privacy settings on your smartphone that work for you.

Note that if the Instagram privacy settings have changed since this was last updated then some of the screens and steps will likely be different; however, these tips will still give you a sense of the types of considerations you need to be aware of on Instagram.

Instagram Privacy Basics

Instagram lets you choose from two levels of privacy, which have different implications on who will be able to find you and see your PII.

Public Account—Low Privacy

Instagram’s default setting allows everyone to view your posts. Remember, if you post when you’re away from home—out to dinner, at a party, or on vacation—that information will be visible to anyone who accesses your profile. Be very selective about using the photomap feature, if you keep the public setting.

Private Account—Medium Privacy

When you set your profile to private, access to your posts is limited to followers that you have approved. While a private account can make you less vulnerable to online mischief and data-related crimes, you still need to be selective about followers and careful about how you share posts with other social networks.

Who Can See My Stuff?

The process for enabling a Private Account, which limits who can see your posts to followers, is slightly different for Apple iOS, Android and Windows devices.

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 12.51.37 PM

Android Procedure

  • Access your profile by tapping on the Person icon.
  • Tap More.
  • Tap the Private Account setting to turn it on.

Windows Phone Procedure

  • Access your profile by tapping on the Person icon.
  • Tap Edit Profile.
  • Turn on the Posts are Private setting by checking the box and then tap the check mark to save your changes.

During the regular upload process, you can select Add to Photo Map to show where you’ve taken your photos, and Name this Location to further pinpoint the location. If you’d like the posts to be public and sharable to other sites, you can select Share on Other Social Media Sites. Note that using either of these features can expose private information, such as the location of your house or the fact that you are on vacation.

Who Can Look Me Up and Contact Me?

Unlike some other social media apps, Instagram doesn’t provide any settings for limiting who can look you up or contact you. Just remember that you can choose who you allow to follow you—and thus contact you—if you opt for the Private Account setting. You also have the option to block people who you no longer want to follow you (see next section).

How Do I Stop Someone From Bothering Me?

To stop a follower from seeing your photos and/or posting comments, your account needs to be set to Private Account (see above for instructions). Once your account is set to Private, use the following steps to block a user (note that your screen may look slightly different than the examples below, but the steps are the same).

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 12.50.38 PM

Stay Vigilant

The risk to your sensitive information is unrelenting and always changing. In addition to the steps above, be sure to use a unique and strong password for your Instagram account—and avoid sharing it.

Also keep in mind that if your children are posting pictures to the Photo Map or are Naming this Location, they are sharing their location. Educate your children about the risk of broadcasting their locations and being searchable by the general public.

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