Chatter: Instagram’s TOS crisis

Social media users couldn’t help but be aware of Instagram’s “new” terms of service Tuesday. The Facebook-owned social photography app tweaked the wording of its user agreement in such a way that raised the ire of much of its user base. At issue were the following lines: “To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored […]

Social media users couldn’t help but be aware of Instagram’s “new” terms of service Tuesday. The Facebook-owned social photography app tweaked the wording of its user agreement in such a way that raised the ire of much of its user base.

At issue were the following lines:

“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.”

With fear that personal photos would soon be appearing in display ads and in newspapers, Twitter and Facebook lit up like a Christmas tree with angry posts about a perceived invasion of privacy. However, Instagram insists its words were misinterpreted (see Kevin Systrom below).

Here’s the chatter on Instagram’s TOS crisis:

Kevin Systrom @ Instagram
“From the start, Instagram was created to become a business. 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.”

Jesse Brown @ Maclean’s
“Well, that’s a relief! And how about those dang interpreters, always misinterpreting! They sure did miss the mark on this one. People actually thought that Instagram wants the right to cut deals with companies that let them use everyone’s photos in ads. Actually, that part is true.

But people also freaked out in thinking that Instagram wanted the right to not pay users when companies used their photos in ads. Yet that’s also accurate.

…Instagram can’t sell your photos, because they don’t own them, you do. All Instagram owns is a permanent global licence to exploit your photos and the data associated with them (i.e. name and location data) in any way they want, a licence they can sell or rent to anyone they want.

Which is different than owning them how?

While Instagram is quick to reassure us that they won’t do anything too scary or invasive with our images, their Terms of Use tells a different story. Like any free social media app, Instagram is in the advertising business. And like any free user-generated content service, they want an expansive licence over all of their users’ content. What will they do with it? Make money, any way they can.

Exactly how they will do this will be contingent on what users will tolerate and what advertisers will buy. As we saw yesterday, users can be volatile, suddenly outraged by a scary contract that as others have pointed out, isn’t that different from Instagram’s old contract. But user outrage is always temporary, and never as widespread as it seems. Instagram has more than 100 million users. Even if 1 per cent of them quit the service yesterday (and I doubt the number is anywhere near that high) the service will still have multitudes left to exploit.”

Matthew Ingram @ GigaOM
“Amid the virtual gallons of digital ink that have been spilled about Instagram’s changes to its terms of service, there seem to be two dominant strains of thought: one is that the photo-sharing service has been infected by the same nefarious privacy virus that Facebook is notorious for, and only eternal vigilance will stop it from doing something horrible with our photos. The second is that this kind of evil behavior is a natural outcome of an ad-supported user-generated-content model, and therefore this model is broken and/or bad. But is it really that simple? Not even close.

…In my view, this is a fair trade – I get a free service that has a lot of value, and I pay for it by looking at (and possibly even participating in) some advertising. If you don’t like this bargain, then you have other choices: for example, you can pay for alternative services like Flickr. But it’s worth pointing out that their terms of service, and those at Twitter and almost every other web-based service provider, contain wording that is virtually identical to that proposed by Instagram. Welcome to the internet.”

Peter Nowak @ Canadian Business
“Sometimes balancing the provision of a cool service with the need to make money is done ingeniously, as Google did when it built a huge business out of serving up non-intrusive ads in exchange for organizing the web. Sometimes it’s done clumsily, as Facebook has done with similar advertising deals that border on privacy violations. Indeed, Facebook’s own co-opting of users’ photos into ads is among the creepiest things any major company has done online.

Instagram, unfortunately, couldn’t have picked a worse way to monetize its popularity. Google in particular took years to figure out how it could make money, and it did so smartly, first by studying how people used its service, then designing a system around it that could pull in revenue without ticking them off.

Instagram, which was founded only two years ago, decided to forgo that longer study-to-innovation cycle and instead went for the quick and simple buck, or at least it did before sharply backpedaling. It’s no wonder people were upset, since there’s nothing innovative about letting advertisers use subscribers’ stuff for their own purposes. It’s the easy way out.”

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