Startup secretly collected millions of Instagram users' location data, stories

A screenshot from a Hyp3r marketing video shows how brands can take advantage of location data to target potential customers

For example, if you went to a baseball game and there was a company out there that wanted to market to baseball fans, Hyp3r would scrape your location data through your Instagram or Facebook posts and then create targeted ads for you. It reportedly included location information, profile information, follower lists, and Instagram Stories - the latter of which are typically meant to disappear after 24 hours.

Hyp3r had been operating in plain sight for a year, taking advantage of a weakness in Instagram's security, but Instagram failed to notice. The report blames Instagram for "lax oversight", while others believe the blamed lies squarely on Hyp3r for finding a way to bypass Instagram's API updates.

Business Insider recently did a report on how Hyp3r was violating privacy policies by scraping location data in the manner that it was doing, and after this report Hyp3r was no longer included as a marketing partner for both of the social media platforms.

HYP3R describes itself as "a location-based marketing platform that helps businesses unlock geosocial data to acquire and engage high-value customers".

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In the wake of Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal, Instagram had begun disabling parts of its API, including location tools. A San Francisco startup which is an Instagram trusted partner has been illegally saving users stories and tracking their locations. "As a result, we've removed them from our platform".

The company could face a fine of up to 4% of its global turnover if it fails to inform users and the regulator of a data breach within 72 hours of that breach being discovered. Hyp3r CEO Carlos Garcia said in a statement "Hyp3r is, and has always been, a company that enables authentic, delightful marketing that is compliant with consumer privacy regulations and social network Terms of Services".

A portion of what Hyp3r is scraping comes from Instagram's Location pages which highlight images from public accounts that have been geo-tagged and are visible publicly anyway.

There is no information on the number of users affected by the data theft, but the company is still investigating the matter. The company told Business Insider that "HYP3R's actions were not sanctioned and violate our policies". The Hyp3r and their advisors contact the Facebook staff for scheduling meetings with the social network. "But if the information is online and publicly accessible, law officials can sometimes overlook the practice".

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