Why We Shouldn’t be Surprised By Instagram’s ToS and Why I’m Leaving Instagram Unless It’s Changed

It’s been revealed that Facebook wants to be able to make money from the photos shared on Instagram, the company it paid almost $700m for in September (after a bid of $1bn in April 2012). Naturally, in order to do that all they have to do is add a few lines to the Terms of Service, which no one reads, stating that they can now sell your images with advertisers:

“We may share User Content and your information (including but not limited to, information from cookies, log files, device identifiers, location data, and usage data) with businesses that are legally part of the same group of companies that Instagram is part of, or that become part of that group (“Affiliates”). Affiliates may use this information to help provide, understand, and improve the Service (including by providing analytics) and Affiliates’ own services (including by providing you with better and more relevant experiences). But these Affiliates will honor the choices you make about who can see your photos.”

There are a number of points to be made about this, some cynical, and some to be taken seriously.

On the cynical, half-truth, note: we all (100 million of us) signed up to a free service and willingly gave them our content. Our content. Our content And what did we expect them to do with the content? After all, they are in the business of making money, and believe it or not, the internet is becoming less “free” every day. That which is “free” is paid for by reams of advertisements, or indeed by you. If you want something, you must pay for it. You are the product etc.

Too many people are “scared” of the internet; the big social networks, search engines, services etc. But it’s really very simple: if you don’t want someone to know something, don’t put it on the internet. Or, find an alternative. Want a search engine without personalised search and tracking? Try DuckDuckGo. Fed up with Facebook? Why not migrate to Diaspora? Or maybe the revamped Myspace? But you don’t jump ship, you stay where your friends are, and you learn to accept that it isn’t a free for all, it isn’t a democracy, and if you want something to be private don’t put it on the Internet. Sure you can lock down your account — go private. But how “private” do you really believe that is? And what value do you get from it? Operate a covert operation of mouthing off to a select few people of whom you don’t know and will never have a real connection with. But then you could get a pen and paper and begin with “Dear Diary…”

For those truly interested Terms of Service; Didn’t read has rated a number of free online web services by the way in which they handle the terms and privacy policies. As is stated, before the recent update, Instagram’s terms included the right for Instagram to distribute through any media, whereas now this right is also transferred to Facebook.

Sure it’s not very nice of Instagram/Facebook to sell your pictures to advertisers, however this is nothing new. Twitpic made a similar move in May 2011 to prevent users from selling or distributing their own images which had been uploaded to the service. This was then changed and everyone was happy. But few are aware that most photo sharing service have similar clauses: they own your data. While it is often in the best interests of the company to ask for and get the rights they can in order to display and reproduce content, many will abuse this right.

I will, however, leave Instagram unless they alter these terms before they come into effect on January 16 2013. I was reluctant to join to begin with and it was fun while it lasted. I care about my public image and my data and I’m willing to pay for a service which will not claim my work as theirs, without comment or credit. As I do, and will continue to. While I understand that in order to be a part of the social web today some sacrifices must be made, but this crosses the line. My images are not “throwaway”, each one tells a story. Part of my story. And I don’t give them away for free. Believe it or not, there are a lot more interesting and useful images than pictures of lattes, cats and sunsets for Facebook to make money from.

Here are just a few of my own favourite images taken with Instagram:

I think I aptly covered all relevant clichés.


Oh Autumn

Untitled — Sunset
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