As Instagram continues to expand its initiative of hiding public like counts in order to reduce competition on the platform - which, studies have shown, can be particularly harmful for younger users - new research suggests that a growing number of young users are now converting their personal profiles into business accounts in order to access more in-depth audience data on their post performance.
That's particularly concerning, given that in order to list yourself as a 'business' on the platform, you need to provide additional contact info, like a phone number or email address, which is then displayed in your publicly accessible bio.
According to researcher David Stier, around two million 12-15 year-old Instagram users currently have their phone and/or email information publicly listed on the platform, a significant privacy issue.
To come to this conclusion, Stier analyzed over 200,000 Instagram user profiles in multiple countries. Stier says that he has tested several sample groups using the same methodology, even beyond this initial 200k set, and he has found the same results every time, leading to his conclusion that millions of underage users are unwittingly exposing their contact data.
"Over 60 million kids can easily change their profile to a “business account” for which Instagram requires the public display of their email address and/or phone number in app."
Of course, technically, kids under the age of 13 can't sign-up for an Instagram account, but that stipulation is easily subverted. And with Instagram lessening its public focus on Likes, maybe, through the advanced metrics available through business profile, young users are looking to maintain their Insta 'cred' by sharing these more in-depth figures.
Stier says that he has reported the issue to Instagram, but the company has yet to act. Stier notes that Instagram could avoid this by masking email addresses and hiding phone number listings - but that would also have impacts for actual businesses. Given this, the solution is not immediately clear - Instagram could look to improve its detection and removal methods for the same. But the problem could also be set to increase, as Instagram broadens its program of hiding public like counts.
Of course, the two initiatives are not definitively connected. Stier notes that he first reported his findings to Instagram back in February, long before the like test was implemented. But as Instagram looks to change its reporting options, it makes sense that users would look to alternatives to maintain their insights. Even under the test, users can still access their personal insights, so they know what their total like counts are. But by putting focus on the metrics, maybe more users are considering their options.
If there is any connection, that's a significantly negative consequence of Instagram's test. And either way, if minors are unwittingly sharing their contact details, Instagram needs to act - and soon.