Instagram’s Latest “Feature” Proves It’s Not Listening

We want more control over our data and user experience, not less.

Instagram’s Latest “Feature” Proves It’s Not Listening
[Photo: Kimson Doan/Unsplash, Sebastian Unrau/Unsplash, Michael Frattaroli/Unsplash]

In a new update to Instagram, the service is borrowing a feature from Facebook Messenger. It now lists the “Activity Status” of every user in the direct chat area of the app, allowing your followers to see when you were last active on the service.



[Screenshot: courtesy the author]
The new feature seems practically designed to enable all sorts of unwanted scenarios: A creep DMs you, and wonders if you’ve been on Instagram, or are currently on Instagram, to see it. A jealous friend is curious why you haven’t liked their posts in days, only to note that you were on the app just five minutes ago.

Yes, you can go into your settings to opt-out of the feature. But frankly, that’s beside the point. After a year of security breaches, personal data overreaches, and other UX-borne missteps across the web, users are already worried about their privacy on social networks. The new Activity Status goes beyond the transparency of something like a read receipt on Messenger, which conveys to a friend or family member, “yup I saw this,” and serves as an interface surrogate for the kinds of cues we use in real-life conversations, like nodding or giving eye contact. Instead, Activity Status actively broadcasts your behavior to everyone else on the app–information that simply doesn’t need to be shared. Imagine your toilet saying, “Jenna last used the bathroom 15 minutes ago.” Why? To what end? Other than, perhaps, to make the toilet look like a very essential part of Jenna’s life for the company selling toilets. Or to fuel engagement from someone who, for whatever reason, is very interested in Jenna’s bathroom habits.

The new feature’s potential benefits–all I can imagine is that someone might see that you haven’t been on Instagram for a while, and not take it to heart that you’ve ignored their messages–are far outweighed by the bad. Especially now, with people chanting “delete Facebook” and Mark Zuckerberg announcing his personal mission to fix all the things wrong with his own flagship service, it simply makes no strategic sense that Instagram is taking creepy design cues from Facebook and Messenger (an app whose leader admitted that it has gotten too bloated just last week.) What middle manager approved this idea?

In general, Instagram continues to grow meteorically by evolving in just the right ways. It lifted the best features of Snapchat. Then it enabled its users to delete their histories publicly but save them privately.  Even after adding videos and breaking out of its own square formatting, Instagram managed to keep feeling like Instagram. So please, powers that be at Instagram, let’s keep the good times rolling. Delete this creepy Activity Status feature–or risk people chanting “delete Instagram.”

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.