Instagram login screen
Source: Perzonseo Webbyra | CC BY 2.0 | Cropped & Resized

Of all of the changes Instagram has made, the removal of the chronological feed has been the most criticized. Users hold that they’d rather see things in the order than what the company’s opaque algorithm deems important.

In an interview with Mashable, Design Lead Jill Nussbaum and Product Lead Julian Gutman talked about how the app ‘ranks’ posts and why. The reason, according to Nussbaum, is that users were missing posts.

“One of the main reasons was people were missing the posts that mattered to them,” said Nussbaum to the publication. “So before we introduced ranking in 2016, people were missing 70 percent of their content. Over half of that content was friends and family.”

Of course, that’s no good argument as to why a toggle isn’t available, but that’s a conversation for another day. As you’d expect, Instagram uses your historical usage data to figure out what you want to see in the future, feeding it into a machine learning algorithm.

However, it also tailors content by figuring out who you’re closest to. Obviously, this can be discerned by how often you interact on the platform, but Gutman confirms that Facebook also plays a part.

Unspecified Facebook Signals

The product lead didn’t give specifics on the ‘signals’ it pulls from Facebook but did confirm that whether users were fans on the platform is one of them. More generally, the signals include “different ways that you might express your intent in terms of how that person matters to you”.

It’s not clear how far Instagram goes with this, but it’s an interesting consequence of its acquisition. As far as we know, it could be pulling data like relationship status, likes, tags, or even facial recognition from photos.

Gutman says that machine learning is “constantly adapting,” depending on how users use Instagram, new feeds, etc. That makes us wonder if the platform also pulls signals that you’ve broken a friendship or relationship with someone on Facebook and surfaces them less.

Ultimately, this is nothing that isn’t in Facebook’s privacy policy. It specifically mentions the use of users data to personalize the Instagram Feed. The Instagram one even says the company may use data with special protections (facial recognition, race, philosophical beliefs).

That doesn’t stop it from feeling supremely creepy, though. Customers using Facebook likely don’t expect such a direct link between the platforms, especially if they were using Instagram before the acquisition. It would be interesting to hear more specifics, but it’s doubtful Facebook will be that forthcoming.