Today, an interesting post on Medium brings to light a warning for all Instagram account holders: If you let your account remain inactive for too long, your handle could be given away — and you might not get any notice ahead of time.
On Medium, Brian Hoff wrote that he and his wife first discovered something strange a few months ago when Brian tried to tag his wife in a photo and the account name appeared as “__kathleen” instead of “@kathleen.”
Although Hoff admits that his wife was “not a regular on the service anymore,” she still tried to reach out to the company via its @InstagramHelp Twitter account to see if the difference might be because of a security issue. TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez interviewed Brian and he said that his wife also emailed the company at cont[email protected]
Then, earlier this morning, Kathleen Hoff tried to log in to her account to see a picture that her husband had posted, and she could no longer log in. Her @Kathleen handle had been given to another Kathleen, whom Hoff realised was an Instagram employee.
Hoff isn’t accusing the Instagram employee of stealing the account, but he does complain that the lack of response from Instagram when he and his wife were looking for support (and that the company didn’t try to notify her before giving away her handle) was unfortunate. He wrote that he thinks that the communication issue is a result of the Facebook acquisition.
In the end, however, Kathleen Hoff ended up getting the account back from Instagram.
We reached out to the company, and here’s what it said:
Like many social services, Instagram has a policy of reassigning usernames from accounts that have been inactive for a significant length of time. While the policy is standard practice and will continue, Instagram employees strive to always put members of the Instagram community first, and so we will be returning the name to the previous owner.
Instagram isn’t the only company that reassigns inactive usernames. In fact, most do. What remains in question, however, is actually how long a “significant length” of time is. Hoff told TechCrunch that his wife wasn’t an active poster, but that she would occasionally log in and view photos using her account. Instagram’s definition of “inactive” isn’t just hinged on uploads — to be inactive, users aren’t even logging in — so either Hoff was stretching the definition of “occasionally,” or Instagram doesn’t wait all that long.
Regardless, this story should serve as a reminder to users: If you want to keep an account, you should actually use it.