Hunting Elusive Prey on Instagram

Instagram is a photo-sharing site now owned by Facebook. It has about 400 million users. This often works in consort with Twitter to distribute photos.

I know of no way to search the posts of a user who has made his profile private. For the elusive private user profiles, I reverse the profile picture to find other accounts that use it, and go from there.

If the user updated his profile picture since 2015, then view the image and then remove the ‘s150x150′ from the thumbnail image URL and you may end-up at a full resolution version of the image–reverse search this image to find other social media accounts. The profile page may be private, but any posts that appear in Twitter, Tinder, or elsewhere are not.

Unfortunately, Instagram does not offer a true search facility. To search this, you must rely on traditional search engines and third party apps. For example, in Google and Bing, use the site: command.

The Instagram API was shut down this summer, but fortunately for investigators, this has not affected the third party apps mentioned below.

The Apple-only Photodesk app is the powerhouse for searching and managing Instagram. It allows you to perform the standard Instagram functions of sharing, liking and commenting, but the real value to investigators is the ability to search for content by keyword, tag and username.

When monitoring a current event, Photodesk offers the ability to search by location, and create a geofence around that position. This filters content to show only that within a certain radius showing the results on a map.

If you are not an Apple user, or don’t need the publishing features of Photodesk, then Picodash, which was formerly known as Gramfeed, is an alternative. Picodash offers the same advanced searches for Instagram content as Photodesk, enabling the user to search by hashtag, date/time, keyword, user, and location. I like this because it is easy to get stuff I find from it into a report. Of course, it isn’t free at $8 per month, but I think it’s worth it.