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Not as private as you think: Finsta posts are permanent, shareable and retrievable, like anything on the Internet

January 8, 2017

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Not as private as you think: Finsta posts are permanent, shareable and retrievable, like anything on the Internet

Graphic from Instagram.com

Graphic from Instagram.com

Graphic from Instagram.com

Because finstas are always set by the user to be on finsta’s private setting, they are also sometimes referred to as “private accounts,” or “privates.” However, these accounts are no more private than a main Instagram account or a public Facebook.

Finsta posts can be shown to anyone, and even screenshotted and passed around through text messages. In a poll taken last month of 97 Shalhevet students, one 12th-grade boy said he had not made a finsta because he was worried his followers would show other people his posts. He is right to be concerned.

“When people are posting things online, you have to approach it as always public and permanent,” said Dr. Eli Shapiro, an educational consultant who has been speaking for a decade on a broad range of topics from cyberbullying, to substance abuse to internet safety.

Just because a finsta account cannot be accessed easily does not mean it cannot be accessed at all. Dr. Shapiro says most companies do a cursory background check of potential employees, but more corporate jobs may hire research companies on retainer. By connecting your e-mail account to the rest of the worldwide web, these private companies can find a lot more than just what is on your public Facebook.

Finstas can also be subpoenaed by the police, if the content of the post could be perceived as illicit. What could be cause for a legal request cannot be exactly defined, because those things are on a case by case basis.

“If it’s a 16-year-old holding a red cup at a party and it looks like it could be alcohol, this is a tricky situation,” wrote cyber safety expert Lori Getz, who spoke at school last year on the topic of sexual consent.

“It’s very difficult to prove that what was inside that cup is actually alcohol,” she said. But “if the 16-year-old is holding a bottle of beer that is clearly labeled, then there may be an opportunity for investigation.”

According to Instagram’s privacy policy — which you click “agree” to whenever you start an account — the company “may access, preserve and share your information in response to a legal request (like a search warrant, court order or subpoena) if we have a good faith belief that the law requires us to do so.”

The explanation appears in a section of the policy titled “Responding to legal requests and preventing harm.”

Posts are forever. Even if someone deletes a post of drinking underage, doing drugs, or something else that is in direct violation of the law, Instagram and legal authorities can still see it. In the privacy policy, Instagram also writes that your information “…may be stored and processed in the United States or any other country in which Instagram, its Affiliates or Service Providers maintain facilities.”

“By registering for and using the Service you consent to the transfer of information to the U.S. or to any other country in which Instagram, its Affiliates or Service Providers maintain facilities and the use and disclosure of information about you,” the policy states.

Instagram also clearly warns they keeps your information, even following “termination or deactivation of your account.”

“Instagram, its Affiliates, or its Service Providers may retain information (including your profile information) and User Content for a commercially reasonable time for backup, archival, and/or audit purposes,” the contract says in a portion of the Privacy Policy called “Your Choices About Your Information.”

Security and legality aside, students should think before they post.

“It’s not just about law enforcement and legality, it’s about your digital footprint,” Dr. Shapiro said. “What are you putting out there and how is it shaping others’ perception of you?

The reality is people save things if they can, he said. Dr. Shapiro put finstas in context of the recent presidential election, in which a decade-old video of Trump making sexual comments resurfaced, as did private e-mails of Hillary Clinton, obtained by Wikileaks apparently received from Russian hackers.

“Comments you made 10 to 15 years ago can come back to haunt you,” Dr. Shapiro warned.

This illusion of privacy, combined with what Dr. Shapiro said is called “online disinhibition,” in which people are much more impulsive online, means they should start being more thoughtful and deliberative then they post.

“If you want to use a finsta in order to make your circle a little bit smaller that’s fine,” Ms. Getz wrote in an email to the Boiling Point. “Just remember that you are trusting these people to now control the information you have provided.”

Because of this, she does not consider finsta accounts to be private.

“If we define the word private as control, meaning that you can control who sees what, who knows what, how much they see and how much they know, then we have to ask ourselves do we control the information once we’ve posted it? The answer is simply no.”

This is true of all social media, both experts said.

“There’s a whole trend of anonymous social media, where there’s the perception of anonymity,” said Dr. Shapiro.

“In some cases it’s more real than in other cases, but even in completely anonymous spaces like Yik Yak, or Whisper the actual user can be traced by police or other legal authorities through the IP Address, there is nothing truly private.”

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Meet the Writer
Photo of Hannah Jannol
Hannah Jannol, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus
Hannah Jannol was Editor-in-Chief of the Boiling Point during the 2017-2018 school year. She now lives in Manhattan and attends The New School as a History and Economics major. She writes for their HerCampus chapter, edits obituaries for The Trace, writes poetry for Eleven and a Half literary magazine, and runs an Instagram and Twitter for Uptown Stories. When she's not writing, reading or editing, she is serving pitas at Mamoun's falafel in the Village, or trying a new iced coffee spot with a friend. Her favorite part of being on Boiling Point was production night, and writing long-form features stories, many of which won awards from CSPA, Quill & Scroll and the American Jewish Press Association.
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Not as private as you think: Finsta posts are permanent, shareable and retrievable, like anything on the Internet