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Teens Have Figured Out How To Mess With Instagram’s Tracking Algorithm

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7 months ago
Teens have been using group accounts on Instagram to feed randomized data to the social network and protect their privacy.

Teens have been using group accounts on Instagram to feed randomized data to the social network and protect their privacy. 

Teens have been using group accounts on Instagram to feed randomized data to the social network and protect their privacy. 

Like about a billion other people, 17-year-old Samantha Mosley spent her Saturday afternoon perusing Instagram

She was taking a glance at the Explore tab, a feature on Instagram that shows you posts tailored for your interests based on algorithms that track your online activities and target posts to your feed. 

But unlike many of Instagram’s users, Mosley and her high school friends in Maryland had figured out a way to fool tracking by the Facebook-owned social network. On the first visit, her Explore tab showed images of Kobe Bryant. Then on a refresh, cooking guides, and after another refresh, animals. 

“I’ve never looked at animals on this account,” Mosley mentioned in Washington, DC. At the hacker conference Shmoocon, along with her father, Russell Mosley, she’d just given a presentation on how teens were keeping their accounts private from Instagram.

Each time she refreshed the Explore tab, it was a completely different topic, none of which she was interested in. That’s because Mosley wasn’t the only person using this account — it belonged to a group of her friends, at least five of whom could be on at any given time. Maybe they couldn’t hide their data footprints, but they could at least leave hundreds behind to confuse trackers.

These teenagers are relying on a sophisticated network of trusted Instagram users to post content from multiple different devices, from multiple different locations. 

If you wanted to confuse Instagram, here’s how.

First, make multiple accounts. You might have an Instagram account dedicated to you and friends, or another just for your hobby. Give access to one of these low-risk accounts to someone you trust.

Then request a password reset, and send the link to that trusted friend who’ll log on from a different device. Password resets don’t end Instagram sessions, so both you and the second person will be able to access the same account at the same time.

Finally, by having someone else post the photo, Instagram grabs metadata from a new, fresh device. Repeat this process with a network of, say, 20 users in 20 different locations with 20 different devices? Now you’re giving Instagram quite the confusing cocktail of data. 

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Mohandes Admin
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