In Instagram's early days, the reason for someone to take an account private was simple: They only wanted an audience they approved, probably close friends and family, to see their posts. While this still holds true in many cases, other, more nuanced, motivations for going private have popped up.
In July, The Atlantic reported that an increasing number of meme accounts were locking their accounts to boost their follower accounts. (If you've ever been DM'd a meme by a friend, only to realize you can't view it because the creator is set to private, you know how frustrating this can be.) For others, unwanted messages from strangers or bots are behind the decision.
But if you Google "view private Instagram account", the results might raise some alarms: Multiple online sites promise to let users bypass the app's security controls and look at accounts that have not accepted them as followers. PrivateInstaViewer.com, for example, claims to offer "a unique software" that will provide access to private accounts. Others, like the Instagram Private Profile Viewer 2018, say they have built "a device" that will do the job.
Here's the catch: Once you try to use one of these services, you'll quickly realize that their free offerings come with a high price. After typing in the username of the private profile you want to view, you're asked to "verify you're human" before you can view the photos. Instead of the standard "I'm not a robot" CAPTCHA prompt, the sites ask survey questions — ones along the line of "which is your favourite big game snack?" and "choose your favourite Hershey's candy."
Click on one of those, and you're required to not only provide your chocolate preference, but also sensitive personal data such as your name, address, phone number, and email. In other words, all the information you probably don't — and shouldn't — want to give away.
For its part, Instagram does investigate these sites to ensure they don't actually end up revealing private profiles after all those personal details are submitted. "We take the privacy and security of Instagram very seriously," an Instagram spokesperson said in response to inquiry. "Only accepted followers can view posts by private accounts."
So, if you're looking to sneak a peek at someone's private account without them knowing or want to see what a meme creator is sharing without following them, consider yourself out of luck. You'll need to tap that "follow" button, and then hope for the best.