Instagram released its Stories feature earlier this month — which is basically a rip-off of Snapchat Stories — in order to tap into the ephemeral social media market. In both features, Snapchat and Instagram let your pictures and videos expire after 24 hours, but viewers can still take screenshots. Snapchat lets you know who took a screenshot of your story; Instagram doesn’t. Snapchat doesn’t allow viewers to download other people’s videos, but there are a host of third party apps that give you that option.
Yesterday, after realising Instagram’s API does allow for stories to be saved, Android software engineer Alec Garcia created a Chrome app that lets you to download all your friends’ Instagram stories. In a Medium post, he wrote:
It took Instagram 2 years to build their first web app, and then another 3 years to implement web search. It will probably be a while, if at all, before Instagram brings Stories to the web, so I thought I’d do it myself.
Once you download the extension, your friends’ stories pop up at the top of your browser. If there’s a video in the story, you can easily download it, which lessens the appeal of supposedly ephemeral feature. The Chrome extension isn’t conceptually different from any of the third party apps that allow you download Snapchat stories, but it makes it really easy.
Just like that!
Garcia speculates that Instagram is saving all our photos and videos in order to create an “On This Day” feature for stories. He writes, “I feel like they should be moving those files to an archive somewhere, not keeping them hosted under the same link.”
This raises questions about how secure Instagram’s servers are, especially since it was so easy for Garcia to create the extension. If Instagram and its parent company Facebook aren’t safely archiving our Instagram Stories, are they safely archiving our other information?
It’s unclear if the new extension makes Instagram stories any less appealing. Most users probably won’t be aware of it. The bug that it exploits, however, draws attention to the conflict of ephemeral social media. In the digital age, basically anything you put online is forever, which is one of the reasons why Snapchat is so popular. Even so, Snapchat basically undermined the fundamental premise of its app — and what truly separated it from its competition — when it introduced its memories feature last month. The new feature also served as a reminder to users that even though you might feel like your messages disappear, Snapchat keeps a record.
As apps that are designed to be “ephemeral” become increasingly less so, it calls into question how much that even matters to users. If you’re not evading the watchful eye of an authority figure, this Instagram bug isn’t a huge concern simply because the company is saving your seemingly ephemeral images. It comes as no surprise that social media companies like to keep your (very valuable) data. The bug is, however, cause for concern because it reveals that your data is not necessarily safe.
We reached out to Instagram for comment, but had not heard back at time of writing.