Instagram Clarifies Its Terms — I Won’t Quit Just Yet


Instagram have now fully reverted to their original terms and are scrapping the possible advertising plans. In a statement Kevin Systrom, Instagram co-founder, said:

The concerns we heard about from you the most focused on advertising, and what our changes might mean for you and your photos. There was confusion and real concern about what our possible advertising products could look like and how they would work.

Because of the feedback we have heard from you, we are reverting this advertising section to the original version that has been in effect since we launched the service in October 2010. You can see the updated terms here.

He also made it very clear that “We don’t own your photos – you do.”

As predicted, Instagram have clarified their modification to the Terms of Service that sent the internet into a flurry yesterday. By “clarified” what they really did was admit that they made a mistake and attempt to bring back the users who were thinking of leaving.

Kevin Systrom said in an update:

I’m writing this today to let you know we’re listening and to commit to you that we will be doing more to answer your questions, fix any mistakes, and eliminate the confusion. As we review your feedback and stories in the press, we’re going to modify specific parts of the terms to make it more clear what will happen with your photos.

To put it simply, Instagram thought of a way of making money by allowing advertisers to use the data and images uploaded in order to create ads. No, not ugly banner ads, but something that might actually be useful. This is what we want! Gone are the days where men would be inflicted with ads for panty liners or tampons, instead we receive advertising based on the things which are actually suited to us, based on the stuff we like, the stuff we look at etc.

This is what Facebook does. But as MG Siegler says, many people have issue with Facebook for this very reason. I don’t understand it either:

That’s the thing: why was the default thought here to assume that Instagram was out to do something nefarious? Because Facebook now owns the company? Why is it the default thinking that Facebook is out to do something nefarious?

I’m currently being fed ads for Walkers’ Sensations Crisps — which I’m currently</> munching! — something from Tesco, a photography forum — I do like photography, Starbucks — I do enjoy coffee, a “gift for him” from Boots and items from a Jewellers — because I’m in a relationship? This is stuff I may have a use for. This is why cookies are good. This is why personalised advertising is a good idea. Google is no different. Gmail also trawls your emails for clues as to what advertisements to serve you!

However, this was not clearly spelled out by Instagram, nor their lawyers, and this is where they went wrong:

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.

Nilay Patel explains what the new language means in terms we can understand:

The new terms actually make things clearer and — importantly — more limited. That “on, about, or in conjunction” with language is dead and gone. Now you’re only agreeing that someone else can pay Instagram to display your photos and other information only in connection with paid or sponsored content. These phrases have very specific meanings — Instagram can’t sell your photos to anyone, for example. It simply doesn’t have permission. And Budweiser isn’t allowed to crop your photo of a bar, slap a logo on it, and run it as an ad on Instagram — that would go well beyond “display” and into modification, which Instagram doesn’t have a license to do. (In fact, the old Instagram terms allowed for modification, but the new ones don’t — they actually got better for users in that regard.) In technical legal terms, Instagram doesn’t have the right to create a “derivative work” under 17 USC §106. The company can’t sell your photos, and it can’t take your photos and change them in any meaningful way.

So what can Instagram do? Well, an advertiser can pay Instagram to display your photos in a way that doesn’t create anything new — so Budweiser can put up a box in the timeline that says “our favorite Instagram photos of this bar!” and put user photos in there, but it can’t take those photos and modify them, or combine them with other content to create a new thing. Putting a logo on your photo would definitely break the rules. But putting a logo somewhere near your photos? That would probably be okay.

Some, like Mat Honan of Wired Magazine, did quit Instagram yesterday. I wonder if he regrets it today? He has updated his post adding “Without a clear commitment on its end, I’m not making a clear commitment either: In short, I still want options.” So… he hasn’t committed to quitting or has he? And what of the others who jumped ship? I believe they jumped the gun.

On the issue of copyright, Sam Biddle of Gizmodo has it very wrong. Whether or not these images are “throwaway” or “dumb” that is a bad and completely irrelevant argument. The issue is whether companies can make money of our data and content. Our intellectual property. There is a lot more to be discussed about the value of the content we put online, and more importantly, who owns it. Bottom line is: if you don’t want your content used by products and services online don’t upload your content to the websites of free products and serices. Or at least read the terms before you do so. Fine with all that? Then carry on.

I will be staying put for now.