What I learned when I downloaded my Instagram data

What I learned when I downloaded my Instagram data
Did you know you can download your Instagram data? With a few simple steps, you can request an Instagram data download and see what information has been collected about your account over the last few years. According to Tech Crunch, one of the reasons Instagram rolled out this feature was to be GDPR compliant and to match the features of other social media giants. In my Instagram data download, I was surprised to see just how much data is stored. I had no idea that an embarrassing comment I made in 2013 was still being stored by Instagram. Checking out my old posts and pictures was a nice walk down memory lane. Overall, downloading your Instagram data can be an eye-opening and entertaining experience.

What I learned when I downloaded my Instagram data:

Naturally, the first thing I had to learn was how to download my Instagram data. This is a fairly simple process. For anyone who might wish to check out their Instagram data after reading this article, here is a short step by step guide:

How to download your Instagram data

First, open up Instagram. Next, navigate to your profile. Then click on the three horizontal lines in the upper right-hand corner in order to get to your settings. Under “Settings”, click on “Security”. After navigating to your security settings you will then see a header called “Data and history” and the option to “Download data”. If you click on “Download data” you are able to enter an email to which the data will be sent to. However, once you click on “Request Download”, be sure to have your Instagram password ready as you will need to enter it in order to finish the request. Lastly, you will soon get an email from Instagram when your data is ready. However, this link with your data will only work for four days for security reasons. Now you are ready to check out your Instagram data download.

What I found in my Instagram data download

Shortly after making my Instagram data download request, I received an email with a link to three zip folders. The first thing I could check out was my account history. This didn’t reveal too many surprises, except for a bit of embarrassment when seeing the ridiculous email account I used when I was still in high school. The next file was called “comments”. Basically, this file consists of every comment I’ve ever made. For each comment, there is a timestamp, a date, the name of the account associated with the post I commented on, and the text or emojis used in the comment. I had comments that went as far back as 2013!

Me when I read all of the cheesy comments I wrote 7 years ago…

Connections, likes, and messages

“Connections” were in the next file I opened from the first folder. Here I could see connections I’ve blocked, users I’ve hidden stories from, follow requests I’ve sent, and permanent follow requests, and followers. Basically, the data looks like this: {“follow_requests_sent”: {“fictionalaccountname”: “2020-07-07T20:07:11+00:00: “fictionalaccountname2”: “2020-07-07T20:07:11+00:00”}, {“permanent_follow_requests”: {“fictionalaccountname”: “2020-07-07T20:07:11+00:00: “fictionalaccountname2”: “2020-06-06 T20:07:11+00:00”}, {“followers”: {“fictionalaccountname”: “2020-07-07T20:07:11+00:00: “fictionalaccountname2”: “2020-06-06 T20:07:11+00:00”}. When I looked at the data file, under “follow_requests_sent” I saw a few users who have not accepted my requests to follow their accounts. These are accounts that have their privacy settings set so that you cannot follow them unless they accept the request. Under “permanent_follow_requests” I saw a list of accounts that had accepted my request to follow their account. So these are accounts that I am actively connected to and see on my Instagram feed, versus the accounts that have not yet accepted my request whose content I cannot view. The followers list included accounts that follow me. There were a few files I opened but were empty. Under one file called “Information about you” my primary location was listed, but only the city name (not geographical coordinates or something). The file called “likes” had a long list of all the random things I’ve liked through the years. This really showed me how my tastes have changed in the sorts of accounts I like. Afterwards, I checked out the file called “messages”. This was an extremely large file, containing messages I’ve sent since 2016. Checking out this file made me pause and reflect on just how often I must have spent on Instagram in order to generate such a long list. I also pondered about what someone would learn about me with access to this data and my personal correspondence with different connections.

Other things I found:

The next few files I checked out were called “searches” (containing recent searches I made), “seen content”, “settings”, and “shopping”. I learned here which product ads I must have clicked on. I guess I am not as immune to target advertising as I had thought. Lastly, I looked at a file called “Uploaded contacts”. At some point in time, I must have enabled contact sharing with Instagram. For each contact, I could see their first name, last name, email address, and phone number. I think from a privacy standpoint this an important file to check out. When you share data on Instagram, it might not be just your data that you are sharing. If you are listed in someone else’s contacts on their phone, it is likely your info could be in their Instagram data.

Folder 1 summary:

To recap, in this folder I could check out:
  • Account history
  • Comments
  • Connections
  • Devices
  • Information about you
  • Likes
  • Messages
  • Searches
  • Seen content
  • Shopping
  • Stories activities
  • Uploaded contacts


This was only the first folder, and already I felt shocked at the sheer amount of information that I had come across.

My Instagram data download had folders on folders on folders.

Folder number 2 from my Instagram data download

Folder number 2 was mostly pictures and videos. Actually, if you wanted to back up your photos or videos from your Instagram account, downloading your data would be an easy and secure solution. This could be especially helpful if you wanted to backup content before deleting your account. In this folder I could see:
  • Photos and old memes I had sent in direct messages
  • Tons of photos I posted on my Instagram feed
  • Videos
  • Old profile photos
  • Stories


There were many mini folders inside this folder, so it took me some time to check out all of the photos. The photos went back to the beginning of my account in 2013. Seeing all these photos from the beginning of my account was actually pretty fun.

Folder number 3 from my Instagram data download

The last folder was pretty empty. I only found one photo from 2016 of a squirrel eating what I think is a chocolate chip cookie. Not much else to report from folder 3. 

Final thoughts about my Instagram data download

Overall, I learned a few key things in my Instagram data download.
  1. Wow, there is a lot of personal data that is being stored by Instagram
  2. My contacts’ personal data (phone number + email address) were also included
  3. I might want to change my ad targeting settings so that I don’t click on so many product ads
  4. Clearly, the way I have used Instagram has changed over the years
  5. Privacy settings on Instagram are definitely important, just think about all the personal info that is stored by Instagram
  6. Maybe Instagram knows me better than I know myself at this point. Seeing all of my likes, photos, comments, and past activity feels a bit invasive, even though it is about me
After combing through my own Instagram data, I would highly recommend that others try to download their Instagram data too. You might be surprised by what you find. If nothing else, it is a fun and nostalgic quarantine activity sure to take up a least an hour if you take a very thorough look. If you’re like me, and you decide that you’d like to give your privacy settings a boost on Instagram, check out Spy-Fy‘s article from last week on How to change your privacy settings on Instagram.

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