I don't have an Instagram account. But I have friends in the public relations industry who do, and use them often.
They're smart professionals. So I assume they realize that Instagram doesn't make money by hosting their gee-whiz edited photos of their trip to Savannah. It makes money by harvesting data from photos, including the metadata it contains.
Your smartphone's camera adds metadata to your photos. It knows where and when you captured the photo. The exposure, the brand of camera, etc. And I'm certain Facebook -- owners of Instagram, you'll recall -- understands how to sift out important information from your photos. And re-sell that information to its advertisers.
The PR business is about influencing people's attitudes. What do you and I care about? How can PR people and marketers use that knowledge to influence users' attitudes and behaviors?
I'm not a fool. Google does this sort of data-mining with all my searches. When I was looking for information on a new musical instrument, I soon began seeing web ads for that instrument alongside content on news pages I read.
But the data Google gleans from my searches isn't geographic. It doesn't tell Google where I bought the instrument -- unless I use Google Wallet.
Instagram, however, likely tells would-be advertisers much more about you than you'd like. Most casual iPhone photographers don't think about composing a photo. As a result, many shots have cluttered backgrounds. Maybe you don't see the boxes of cereal or the brand of stereo in the background behind your photos.
But I'm wagering Instagram does.
Indeed, I post photos to Facebook. And it's likely Facebook knows the brand of camera I used to shoot them. But the metadata I surrender doesn't tell Facebook where I shot the photo; if the camera has GPS, I turn it off.
And every so often, I post of picture of something irrelevant; a funky coffee maker, or a set of orange-handled steak knives. Just to screw up whatever demographic recipe the data-miners have been cooking up about me.