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Instagram can track online activity of users: Ex-Google engineer

Published on Aug 13, 2022 08:28 PM IST

Felix Krause, the founder of fastlane, claimed in a blog on August 10 that on Apple's mobile operating system iOS, the app of Instagram as well as Facebook, render all third-party links and ads within its app using a custom in-app browser.

Felix Krause pointed out that the Instagram app injects its JavaScript code into every website shown, including when clicking on ads.(Reuters file photo)
By | Edited by Aniruddha Dhar, New Delhi

A former Google engineer has said Instagram might be tracking the online activity of its users. Felix Krause, the founder of fastlane, claimed in a blog on August 10 that on Apple's mobile operating system iOS, the app of Instagram as well as Facebook, render all third-party links and ads within its app using a custom in-app browser.

“This causes various risks for the user, with the host app being able to track every single interaction with external websites, from all form inputs like passwords and addresses to every single tap,” Krause said in the blog.

He added that links to external websites are rendered inside the Instagram app, instead of using the built-in Safari.

“This allows Instagram to monitor everything happening on external websites, without the consent from the user, nor the website provider,” Krause said.

The former Google engineer pointed out that the Instagram app injects its JavaScript code into every website shown, including when clicking on ads.

“Even though pcm.js doesn’t do this, injecting custom scripts into third-party websites allows them to monitor all user interactions, like every button & link tapped, text selections, screenshots, as well as any form inputs, like passwords, addresses and credit card numbers,” he said.

Krause also answered some frequently asked questions (FAQs) by Apple mobile users including whether Instagram/Facebook could read everything they do online.

To answer this, Krause said, Instagram/Facebook is only able to read and watch the online activities of users when they open a link or ad from within its apps.

He also provided some tips through which users can protect themselves.

For escaping the in-app-webview, Krause said, “Most in-app browsers have a way to open the currently rendered website in Safari. As soon as you land on that screen, just use that option to escape it. If that button isn’t available, you will have to copy & paste the URL to open the link in the browser of your choice.”

On the other hand, while using the web version, he added that most social networks including Instagram and Facebook, offer a decent mobile-web version, offering a similar feature set. Apple mobile users can use https://instagram.com without issues in iOS Safari, he said.

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