Today I found a social media privacy problem between Pinterest, IFTTT, Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram. These are the only accounts I have tested so far, but it was a broad enough sample to discuss Internet safety, social media privacy and your information being online. Let me be clear: I’m not a developer, nor a statistician, I’m a social media strategist who is always testing and pushing the different social media platforms to their limits to do the best work for my clients.
Pinterest recently opened their API to allow developers to connect to their platform in new and unique ways. I’m a heavy Pinterest user with several Pinterest specific clients and it is my responsibility to stay informed about how Pinterest operates, as well as any changes or issues with the platform. Knowing IFFTT was one of the Pinterest users with early access to their API, I wanted to test the new “recipe” created by Pinterest on IFTTT for my clients.
IFTTT is a tool that writes “recipes” between social networks and apps using commands, such as the one I used today: “If I like a photo on Instagram, post it on Pinterest.” This command sent it to a public Pinterest board that I created within the IFTTT app. I created an Instagram Love board on Pinterest and was pretty happy when it added my pins. As I sat there and thought about the uses for this new tool, I wondered how it would affect Instagram accounts marked “Private.”
Using Leticia’s daughter’s private Instagram account, I found photos that were non-identifying and liked them. An hour later, I checked Pinterest and sure enough, there were the images from Instagram, the captions and her Instagram name on my very public Pinterest board.
Seeing as how the images were exposed from her private Instagram account, I chose to test a few more of the large social media networks to see if the results were the same.
In testing Tumblr, I was happy to see I could choose if my the Instagram images were to be added privately, as a draft, to the queue, or publicly. They were sent from Instagram to Tumblr via IFTTT and a short while later, showed up on my Tumblr page. (I set the images to publish privately, but have included screenshots for reference.) That being said, there is a caveat to this. I had a recipe written to share my Tumblr posts to this Pinterest board and there for the world to see were her private Instagram photos. Anyone with backend access to my Tumblr can Pin these images publicly within Tumblr.
Then I wrote a recipe for Facebook and Instagram. If I liked a photo on Instagram, upload it to Facebook. With Facebook, I could set protocols for who I wanted to see the photos. For the purposes of testing, I set them to public.
The results were the same for all of the networks. Each time I liked one of the photos on her private Instagram account, they were shared publicly.
This raises a lot of questions about the privacy and security promised us by the various social networks who have privacy settings to allow their users to only share their content with approved followers. What concerns does it raise for parents who allow their children to use Instagram as long as it is set to private?
My concern as someone who works in the world of social media is that these platforms are developed and the real world implications aren’t thought about before their APIs are released to the public. My concern, as a parent, is all of that and so much more. Children whose accounts are private may still have self-identifying information that could allow someone to find out more about them based on images found on Pinterest, Tumbr, Facebook, etc. That’s a lot of content to police.
So that begs the question where is the lapse in privacy/security and who is responsible? Is it Instagram for allowing connections and making private accounts suddenly very public? IFTTT who writes the recipe used to connect the Pinterest API to the Instagram API? Is it Pinterest, Facebook and Tumblr who didn’t set out protocols to work with privacy parameters set by users on external networks? Or is this a combination of flaws by the developers of the independent networks who are trusting the others to have these privacy and security matters already in place?
What we do know, and have always known, is that nothing is ever truly secure or private. Changes to how a social media platform operates opens us up to a worm hole filled with issues. And in this case, the issue is privacy.
Concerned about Instagram? Leticia encourages you to talk to your kids! Read her post: Important Conversations to Have with Your Kids about Instagram.