Instagram is sharing 79% of your personal data with third parties

Everything from financial info, usage data and browsing history gets shared.

It’s one of the most addictive apps on our smartphones – but Instagram turns out to be a privacy nightmare for those who are using it. That’s the findings of a new analysis of the most invasive apps used commonly by users by cyber business pCloud. pCloud used the range of new privacy labels rolled out by Apple through its App Store, designed to help consumers decide what they should be wary of, to see how much of a user’s private data is gathered and shared with others.

On average, around half of the most popular apps share user data with third parties. But Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn are the three worst offenders. Instagram in particular tops the list.

A list of apps sharing user data with third parties
Image: pCloud

“No wonder there’s so much promoted content on your feed,” says pCloud in its analysis. “With over 1 billion monthly active users it’s worrying that Instagram is a hub for sharing such a high amount of its unknowing users’ data.”

Instagram data collection and sharing practices by default manage to trigger many of Apple’s privacy label warnings, including offering up to third parties information on a user’s purchases and location, as well as contact info. You’ll also see your search and browsing history shared with others if not careful, as well as personal identifiers and your own usage data.

An eye-opening amount of data

Diagnostics about where the app goes wrong are also given to third parties, alongside financial information if you make purchases within the app.

But it’s not just your personal data that Instagram shares with third parties: it also gives away details of who you’re in contact with, meaning that it’s creating a network effect.

Second-placed Facebook, which is owned by the same parent company, does the same thing – the only two apps to do so, out of 50 surveyed by pCloud. In all, a staggering 79% of a user’s personal data is given to third parties every time they open the app to browse through the range of friends’ photos, videos and stories posted onto Instagram.

“While these apps can be trusted not to do anything malicious with your information, there are lots of people out there who can’t,” says pCloud – who worry that the data could in some way be intercepted.

Instagram tops multiple lists

pCloud also ranked 100 of the most popular apps around the world to judge how invasive they are, and found that here too Instagram topped the unenviable list. In all, 62% of data is shared to third parties for use in marketing materials to users. Facebook, again, comes second, with 55% of data being used for marketing purposes by companies other than Facebook itself.

A list of apps collecting user data for their own benefit
Image: pCloud

Likewise, when it comes to first-party use, or Instagram deciding to track your data so it knows how you use the app and is able to offer suggestions for improving it, the Facebook-owned photo sharing app is a top offender.

Instagram comes second behind its parent company in the rankings for those collecting data for their own benefit, with 86% of user data being used within the company.

The types of things that Instagram collects are similar to everything it shares with third parties, but also includes Apple’s “other data” category.

The volume and type of data Instagram and other apps are collecting and sharing may be a surprise to some, but is simply par for the course on the internet these days. As with all these things, it’s worth remembering that if the product is free, you, as the user, are the product. pCloud does suggest that if you’re not eager to share information like this with others, there are alternatives available. Some of the safest apps to protect users’ personal data from being shared with third parties include familiar names such as Signal and Telegram, while Discord also figures high for privacy.

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