“The researcher reported an issue where someone’s deleted Instagram images and messages would be included in a copy of their information if they used our Download Your Information tool on Instagram,” a spokesperson for Instagram told TechCrunch. “We’ve fixed the issue and have seen no evidence of abuse. We thank the researcher for reporting this issue to us.”It’s not clear how widespread this issue was and whether it affected all Instagram users or only a subset of them, but it’s certainly not an uncommon problem. Whenever we delete data from online services there is usually a lag of some unspecified time before the data is fully removed from the site’s servers. For Instagram, the company says it usually takes around 90 days to completely remove data. But security researchers have found similar issues with other services in the past, including Twitter, which retained direct messages between users for years after they were supposedly deleted.
In this case, the problem was only exposed because Pokharel had the option to download a copy of his data from Instagram. The Facebook-owned company introduced this download tool in 2018 to comply with the EU’s data privacy GDPR regulations. GDPR mandates that EU citizens have a “right of access” to their data, allowing them to request a copy of all the information a company stores on them within a reasonable amount of time. As we found with our experiments exercising this right, the information you receive is not always self-explanatory, but in the case of Instagram it’s easy enough to sort through. It’s also the only easy way to find out if companies have been keeping your data long after you asked them to delete it.