Instagram Geotags Pose a Risk for Teens

instragram-thirdparentInstagram has gotten big in a hurry. If you have a teenager, you may not even be aware of whether she has an Instagram account. Now owned by Facebook, Instagram has over 100 million active users, and 17% of teens recently surveyed claim that Instagram is their most important network. The odds are that if your teen has a smartphone, there’s a pretty good chance that she is using Instagram, and may not be following recommended best practices.

If your teen’s Instagram account is set to public, there is a risk that she could be stalked or harassed by another user, which should be a concern for parents, especially of younger teens. A separate, and not so subtle wrinkle has been getting press this month that should give parents even more pause – there are a large number of Instagram pictures that are geotagged, creating an added risk for users.

A Geotag is metadata added to a picture or other media that allows users, and not just the user taking the picture, to identify precisely where the picture was taken.

Localscope-screen-shotSimply put, if your teen’s Instagram account is public, and the geotagging function is enabled, not only can other users view her pictures, but they will know exactly where they were taken – your house, her favorite hangout or school.

Additionally, a new “near me” GPS-enabled app called Localscope allows users to identify all local photos taken within a certain radius of their device. Your neighborhood stalker or predator could have a field day with this.

What can parents or users who want to be safe do?

  • Encourage your teen to set her Instagram account to private
  • Turn off the GPS tracking function on your phone’s camera
  • Use the phone’s camera, not the Instagram camera, when taking pictures
  • If you insist on using the Instagram camera, make sure the “Add to photo map” setting is “Off” for each picture
  • Recheck your privacy settings each time you download an Instagram update

 

If your photos are currently geotagged you can undo the function for each picture by following the steps in this video:

Interestingly, Change.org has started a petition, currently over 75,000 signatures strong, urging Facebook to make the default setting private and turn off geotagging for all Instagram users aged 13 – 17.

Given Facebook’s historical lack of concern for users’ privacy, I’m not too optimistic about this petition changing Instagram’s terms of service or behavior. As with most internet safety issues, the best course of action is for parents to get involved and make sure that teens understand the risks of any network that they are using.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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