If you’re worried that a stalker is going to show up at your door after tracking you through your Instagram posts — take a deep breath. It’s probably not going to happen.
Earlier this week, a popular message began circulating around Instagram via stories and grid posts from both casual users and big brands. The graphic stated some form of a warning against the precise location feature, which could apparently allow the app to display your exact location rather than a general radius in a geotag. Users were concerned that tagging something like “New York City” while posting from their home would place their photo at their exact address rather than a general New York location.
The viral spread of the fear-inspiring message prompted Instagram to respond on both the Instagram Comms Twitter account and the official Instagram Creators account, debunking the idea that others can access users’ location data. Instagram also reminded users that precise location is an iPhone feature and used by many apps, not something unique to the platform.
As Instagram reminded us, precise location is not a “new iOS update.” The feature has been available since iOS 14 debuted in 2020 and allows apps to pinpoint exact locations using GPS data to provide certain services. While it differs from app to app, the feature is generally used to provide maps and location tags, with the exact location data only visible to the app internally.
In other words, another Instagram user should never be able to pinpoint your address simply by clicking on a geotagged photo unless you have chosen to geotag a specific location, like a restaurant, by name. And unless you are freely giving your home address out on social media, your geotags shouldn’t lead back to your place of residence. You do always have the option to turn precise location off, though it is sneakily automatically toggled on when you grant apps access to location services in general.
While apps like Instagram won’t be giving your precise location out to random criminals out there, the misinformed frenzy does remind us to be mindful about the types of data we are allowing our apps to collect and the information that we choose to share on social media. Though apps and services that collect location data won’t give your information to a random user, they are often required to turn over that data to law enforcement. And while precise location can’t be used to track down an address you don’t post yourself, geotagging locations you like to frequent may reveal your lifestyle habits to anyone who follows you online — and if you have a large following, it’s simply smart to protect these everyday details from strangers.