'Dangerous' hack teens use for Instagram followers

Penny Burfitt
Lifestyle & Entertainment Producer
Social media users were horrified at the changes to Instagram as part of a new trial. Photo: Getty Images

The world may have lost its collective mind over Instagram removing the likes count last week, but there is a sneaky hack teens are using to get around the new format.

Have a casual peruse of any Instagram enthusiast in the adolescent age bracket, and all too often it will include a tiny line above the bio that says either ‘personal blog’, ‘grocery store’, ‘politician’ or words to that effect.

Flick your eyes down and you’ll see an email or phone option that will give anyone who taps it instant access to a personal number, email or both.

What this means is the profile is using a clever little hack to access its analytic information – users are switching their accounts to business mode, and teens are leading the trend.

You may be thinking, Why is young Abigail making a foray into the notoriously cut-throat world of candle making, and where are the wax-based grams?

Truth is, Abigail is just jumping on the bandwagon of becoming a ‘business’ so she can see who is liking her stuff, when they’re doing it, and whether they’re saving her posts and sending them privately to other accounts.

You may be thinking, Why is young Abigail making a foray into the notoriously cut-throat world of candle making, and where are the wax-based grams?

Truth is, Abigail is just jumping on the bandwagon of becoming a ‘business’ so she can see who is liking her stuff, when they’re doing it, and whether they’re saving her posts and sending them privately to other accounts.

From private to publicly listed in under 5 minutes

Setting up the account which provides analytics views is as easy as a few clicks. Photo: Supplied

What does it take to gain all this insight into how to rack up the invisible likes? The only price is a phone number or email address to make your ‘business’ contactable.

Sound familiar?

Anyone who trained in the school of Disney should know a ‘little’ price is often a whopper down the road, and this is no exception. Worst of all, it can happen as quickly as Ursula snatched Ariel’s voice.

I took my account from a Fort Knox of privacy to a public business account (personal blog, at your service) that included my email, phone number, access to all of my photos in exchange for information on my thousands of followers (ok, 375 and counting) in about 2.5 minutes.

It’s that easy – too easy, according to experts who are warning this hack could be a serious safety issue.

The real price of too much information

There's more than one danger associated with business mode. Photo: Getty Images

McAfee’s ‘Cybermum’ Alex Merton-McCann advises families on safe social media use, she says this is disastrous.

“If you can provide someone with a mobile number and link it to an email address it’s not too hard for them to get different logins to different accounts,” she says, explaining that this is the basis on which hackers tend to build their profiles.

The result can either be contributing to the nearly $27 million Aussies have lost to hacking this year alone, or according to eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant something much worse.

“As these are public on business accounts, children using Instagram in this way can be contacted by anyone, including sexual predators,” she told Yahoo Lifestyle.

She went on to confirm that this was no hypothetical, but something the Commission had seen before.

“Children are vulnerable to approaches that might falsely promise opportunities and encourage them to share sensitive information or images,” she said.

“Sadly, our investigative teams do see evidence of predators on social media manipulating children in this way.”

A clapback to the likes ban?

Instagram's teen users don't seem too fazed by the prospect of releasing personal information. Photo: Getty Images

Not a pretty picture, but more than one teen user with a ‘business’ account said they’re not using it to promote themselves publicly.

A high-school student told Yahoo Lifestyle the hack is used to keep tabs on followers use of her photos more than anything else.

“I think people are mainly using this feature out of curiosity,” she said.

“I put my account on the business profile because you can see how many people have saved your posts or sent them to other people.”

She said she saw friends jump on the bandwagon after the likes count ban, but many including herself have been using it for at least a year.

Cybermum Alex agrees the spike in use is ‘most definitely’ connected to the likes count being hidden online.

“It doesn’t mean if you get a business account that your likes count will magically reappear,” Alex says. “But it goes towards providing that insight that the likes count created.”

Given some experts have made the argument that teens are as addicted to social media as a gambling addict to the pokies, this isn’t exactly a great response to what many heralded as the broad positivity of the likes-count ban.

Alex says parents need to have a candid chat with their teens about what exactly they’re sharing, and with whom, and that ideally, Instagram would take responsibility for the proper registration of businesses.

In the meantime check in with your budding ‘Health/ Beauty business’ or if you are one, check out what kind of stuff you should be keeping private.

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