Instagram starts blocking ‘add me’ deeplinking for Snapchat, Telegram

Facebook-owned photo-sharing platform Instagram is flexing its platform muscle by shutting down ‘add me’ deeplinking for some other social media services within its apps.

Previously Instagram users were able to include ‘add me’/’follow me’ links in a website section on their profile page, directly linking out to any other profiles they had on third party social services’ apps. Now attempting to type one of these links to a Snapchat or Telegram profile, within the Instagram app’s website field on a user’s profile, results in the following message…

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A spokesman for Instagram confirmed the change to TechCrunch, providing the following statement: “We’ve removed the ability to include ‘add me’ links on Instagram profile pages. This was a rare use-case, and not the way our platform was intended to be used. Other types of links are still allowed.”

For “other types of links” that can still be clicked through to, read links to blogs, websites, YouTube pages, iTunes pages where prominent Instagram using celebrities might be touting their latest album, for example… Just don’t hope to include a clickable link to add followers to your Snapchat or Telegram accounts.

It’s unclear how many Instagram users are making use of ‘add me’ deeplinking to Snapchat and/or Telegram on their Instagram profiles. From the celebrity side of things, linking out to a branded website seems the more standard self-promotional playbook, and remains unaffected by the block…

Beyonce Instagram

The change was flagged up earlier by mobile messaging platform Telegram, which tweeted the following complaint:

In a message to TechCrunch, Telegram founder Pavel Durov was quick to characterize the move as explicitly targeting his platform — although the deeplinking block does also affect rival messaging app Snapchat, as noted above. But he demonstrated that deeplinking to other social services — including LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, VK and Periscope — does still work. So it looks like there’s some selective discrimination going on here. Or else Instagram’s target is deeplinking that specifically enables a one-click on-boarding to another social service.

“It seems Instagram started to block links to Telegram accounts and channels (like from their website section (ie the only place on Instagram where you can have clickable links),” Durov wrote.

You can forgive Durov his sense of persecution; Telegram has been explicitly targeted by a Facebook-owned property before, as the above tweet notes.

“Like in [the] case with WhatsApp blocking links to Telegram, we received no clarification or warning from Facebook/Instagram,” added Durov, referencing the move last December by WhatsApp to close down clickable links to Telegram.

Durov says links to Telegram are still blocked within the WhatsApp Android app.

Last month Telegram trumpeted reaching 100 million monthly active users, so it can claim some growth momentum — which might be enough of a concern to Facebook to shutter deeplinking and thus block one potential avenue where usage of the rival service might spread (via the social graph of a more popular platform).

That said, it’s unclear what proportion of Telegram’s 100M MAUs are bots — a popular (and much copied) feature on the platform that allows for third party developers to use Telegram’s API to create software accounts that offer automated services (such as supplying photos in response to keywords). We’ve asked Durov to break out bots vs human Telegram users and will update this story with any response. Update: On this he confirms: “We don’t count bots as active users.”

For some comparative context, last September Instagram said it had reached 400 million monthly active users, overtaking the reach of Twitter at that point. Snapchat is less clear cut in disclosing MAUs but last summer founder Evan Spiegel said it had close to 100 million daily active users in “developed countries”.

Instagram’s own Terms of Use include a lengthy section on third party service linking — saying interactions with third party apps “may” be permitted…

Functionality on the Service may also permit interactions between the Service and a third-party web site or feature, including applications that connect the Service or your profile on the Service with a third-party web site or feature. For example, the Service may include a feature that enables you to share Content from the Service or your Content with a third party, which may be publicly posted on that third party’s service or application. Using this functionality typically requires you to login to your account on the third-party service and you do so at your own risk. Instagram does not control any of these third-party web services or any of their content. You expressly acknowledge and agree that Instagram is in no way responsible or liable for any such third-party services or features. YOUR CORRESPONDENCE AND BUSINESS DEALINGS WITH THIRD PARTIES FOUND THROUGH THE SERVICE ARE SOLELY BETWEEN YOU AND THE THIRD PARTY. You may choose, at your sole and absolute discretion and risk, to use applications that connect the Service or your profile on the Service with a third-party service (each, an “Application”) and such Application may interact with, connect to or gather and/or pull information from and to your Service profile. By using such Applications, you acknowledge and agree to the following: (i) if you use an Application to share information, you are consenting to information about your profile on the Service being shared; (ii) your use of an Application may cause personally identifying information to be publicly disclosed and/or associated with you, even if Instagram has not itself provided such information; and (iii) your use of an Application is at your own option and risk, and you will hold the Instagram Parties (defined below) harmless for activity related to the Application.

Of course the platform is in full control of its own policies and can choose to shutter previously permitted functionality if it so desires — which looks to be the case in this instance. Sign up to sit inside a tech platform walled garden and ‘thems the breaks’, as they say.

Telegram’s Durov is himself an active user of Instagram, with close to 100,000 followers on the service and 122 posts frequently showcasing his nomadic lifestyle (having left Russia after being forced to sell his prior social network, VK, Durov and his traveling team of devs work out of multiple cities).

Why does Durov think Instagram has blocked deeplinking at this point? “Our 100M active users or the rise of Telegram Channels,” he suggests, adding: “From their side, they might’ve noticed more and more Instagram users setting links to their Telegram accounts and channels in the website section of Instagram.”

Telegram’s Channels broadcast feature launched last September, replacing an older ‘broadcast lists’ feature that did not support unlimited reach. The new Channels can be public, allowing users to send content to an unlimited number of people and shifting the emphasis of Telegram away from more bounded mobile messaging to a more fully featured and public-facing social media service. And thus treading more directly on the likes of Instagram’s toes.

Telegram also has an in-app photo editor which lets users crop, rotate, edit and auto-enhance photos before sending them. Announcing the feature a year ago, it noted users were sharing 35 million photos daily, adding: “For comparison, Instagram users shared 70 million photos daily in December. Yet up until now, messaging app users couldn’t enjoy a photo editing experience on the level that is offered by photo-sharing apps. We’re changing this today.”

This story was updated to clarify which social service deeplinks are being blocked by Instagram