December 19, 2012
The photo-sharing app has made some policy changes — set to take effect next month — which users interpreted as giving Instagram the right to sell peoples’ uploaded photos without their permission and without compensation.
“To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you,” the terms of service read.
Many users threatened to leave service, believing Instagram would soon have the right to grab users pictures and other data to promote itself on its website or in advertising without mention of or compensation to the owner of the images.
Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, issued a lengthy statement to “answer your questions, fix any mistakes and eliminate the confusion.”
“It was interpreted by many that we were going to sell your photos to others without any compensation. This is not true and it is our mistake that this language is confusing,” wrote Kevin Systrom, one of Instagram’s co-founders. “To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos. We are working on updated language in the terms to make sure this is clear.”
The following is an excerpt from Systrom’s blog post addressing the user backlash:
Advertising is one of many ways that Instagram can become a self-sustaining business, but not the only one. Our intention in updating the terms was to communicate that we’d like to experiment with innovative advertising that feels appropriate on Instagram. Instead it was interpreted by many that we were going to sell your photos to others without any compensation. This is not true and it is our mistake that this language is confusing. To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos. We are working on updated language in the terms to make sure this is clear.
To provide context, we envision a future where both users and brands alike may promote their photos & accounts to increase engagement and to build a more meaningful following. Let’s say a business wanted to promote their account to gain more followers and Instagram was able to feature them in some way. In order to help make a more relevant and useful promotion, it would be helpful to see which of the people you follow also follow this business. In this way, some of the data you produce — like the actions you take (eg, following the account) and your profile photo — might show up if you are following this business.
The language we proposed also raised question about whether your photos can be part of an advertisement. We do not have plans for anything like this and because of that we’re going to remove the language that raised the question. Our main goal is to avoid things like advertising banners you see in other apps that would hurt the Instagram user experience. Instead, we want to create meaningful ways to help you discover new and interesting accounts and content while building a self-sustaining business at the same time.
The company also said:
• Nothing has changed about your photos’ ownership or who can see them.
• Nothing has changed about the control you have over who can see your photos. If you set your photos to private, Instagram only shares your photos with the people you’ve approved to follow you.
• The updated terms of service help protect you, and prevent spam and abuse as Instagram grows.
Before Systrom’s clarification, the original blog post received a number of comments, mostly negative:
“These terms of service are complete and absolute bulls–t. What does Instagram now having the right to sell our photos have to do with safety or with avoiding spam? Absolutely nothing,” wrote one Instagram user. “This post was meant to cover our eyes and not let us see through the scandal that these Terms of Service constitute. Unless these ToS change radically, I will probably delete my account. As will many of the artists that regularly post on the app. Congratulations, Instagram, you just made the Internet a little less safer for those of us who want to share our work.”
Another Instagram user wrote: “Why do all the good companies become sell-outs, seriously. They always start out with such a good thing, and then the money talks and they all walk away from the user, the sole reason the service was created. I’m kinda surprised, though I probably shouldn’t be. I just thought the people at Instagram would be different. They couldn’t have been acquired by a worse media service.”
A Privacy watchdog — the Center for Digital Democracy — has also weighed in on the new terms of service change.
Executive director Jeffrey Chester told Bloomberg the perceived changes raised privacy and security issues where teenagers were concerned.
Facebook “sees teens as a digital goldmine,” said Chester. “We will be pressing the Federal Trade Commission to issue policies to protect teen privacy.”
In response to user outrage Wired published step-by-step instructions for those wishing to delete their account.