Instagram responds to user complaints, says it will not sell your photos

Written on:December 18, 2012
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Instagram responded to user outcry Tuesday over the company’s updated terms of service, clarifying that it does not intend to sell a user’s photos and that users still retain all rights to their content, in an update to the terms of service released by the company on Monday morning. The blog post says that Instagram has heard the user complains, and is making several clarifications:

  • The company does not plan to sell your photos: “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.”
  • The company does not own your content: “Instagram users own their content and Instagram does not claim any ownership rights over your photos. Nothing about this has changed. We respect that there are creative artists and hobbyists alike that pour their heart into creating beautiful photos, and we respect that your photos are your photos. Period.”
  • Users can still set their photos to private: “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.”

Several blogs, including ours, pointed out Monday that the updated terms of service weren’t dramatically different from the original ones — they just clarified exactly how your images can be used by the company. All Instagram photos are posted by default as public to the web, unless a user choses to go private, and the company has always held the right to use those photos in conjunction with advertising. The old terms stated: “you hereby agree that Instagram may place such advertising and promotions on the Instagram Services or on, about, or in conjunction with your Content. The manner, mode and extent of such advertising and promotions are subject to change without specific notice to you.”

But even if the advertising component isn’t new, it didn’t stop news outlets and many users to react negatively toward the company’s update. Many users declared that they were quitting Instagram and heading to Flickr or other services (a statement we might not have expected to come in 2012.)

The fact that Instagram wants to reserve the right to advertise with the content on the service makes sense — the company was purchased by Facebook for more than $ 700 million, and needs to prove that it can start making money. The service has more than 30 million registered users uploading more than 5 million photos per day, all without paying Instagram a cent. In an era when people are reluctant to pay for content, advertising is a predicable strategy. And as the Verge and others pointed out, presenting your photos and actions in conjunction with advertisements is not all that different from Facebook social ads that allowing advertisers to connect their content with your actions on the site.

But even if the updated terms of service were overblown by the media, Monday’s release was a mis-judgement on Instagram’s part. The company didn’t explain well what the changes mean and how your photos will be used, and people felt that their privacy would be violated by the new terms, which they have no choice to opt out of, as they do with Facebook social ads. And once users lose trust in a company, it can be hard to gain that back. Many people are understandably wary of Facebook’s use of their data and distrustful of the service, and this incident could have killed many users’ hopes that their beloved photo app wouldn’t change from its roots after going under Facebook ownership. But it’s possibly that the company’s, “


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