Instagram Tweaks its Terms of Service; You Should be Concerned (Update: Instagram Responds)

13 Mar

Update : In its latest blog post, Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom has moved to allay fears over Instagram’s policy changes. In it, Systrom acknowledges that the language used in the terms allowed for easy misinterpretation, and offered his apologies, while also making it clear that “it is not (the company’s) intention to sell (users’) photos”, and that the company has “no plans” for making users’ photos part of advertisements. What the company actually meant, in terms of advertising at least, is to have both users and brands promote their photos “to increase engagement and build a more meaningful following”. Therefore, we may be seeing ads that resemble Facebook’s promoted posts, instead of advertising banners that “would hurt the Instagram user experience”. Finally, Systrom has announced that the Legalese language used in the current new Terms of Service will be amended in light of the feedback it has been getting. However, the other aspects that raised users’ concern, such as the revised terms for underaged users, have not been addressed – although it must be said that that part has more to do with our side of the court than on theirs.

Popular photo sharing social network Instagram has today changed its Terms of Service in line with its integration with parent company Facebook. In a typically lengthy ToS post on its website, the company that single-handedly made filtered photos cool has made some rather unpopular changes to its policy that is sure to raise some serious privacy concerns for its users. Specifically, the company has noted that as of January 16, 2013, the company has the right to use images and other user-submitted data and also sell it for advertising purposes. In essence, any photo or information that is uploaded onto Instagram will be the under the sole right of Facebook, who can then choose to sell it to advertisers for better targeted advertising…legally. Besides that, while Instagram will not claim ownership of any content that users post on their domain, users “(thereby) grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service“.  That basically means users automatically give permission to the company to sell anything they post onto Instagram to third parties, simply by posting it on Instagram. Also, the tweaked ToS also states that users will “acknowledge that (the company) may not always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such.”

Hence, some images that appear on users’ news feed may actually be advertisements tailored to appear on your news feed based on your browsing history on Instagram – which is what targeted advertising is all about. In addition, a third party business may pay Instagram (a.k.a. Facebook) “to display (a user’s) 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 (the user).” Therefore, Facebook can and will be making money out of photos that users have taken, without having to notify them that their photos and information are being sold to the highest bidder. To put this in perspective, let’s say there is user A from town X who loves browsing through photos of pasta on Instagram. Tracking cookies containing user A’s browsing data is then collected by Instagram. User B snaps a lovely plate of spaghetti aglio olio taken from Italian Restaurant A, also located in town X. Italian Restaurant A pays Instagram for user B’s photo and ad space disguised as a user-submitted post on Instagram to promote their establishment…which then appears on the news feeds of all users who love pasta living in town X and its thereabouts based on their tracking cookies.

All these are done without the knowledge and consent of any user on Instagram. Finally, while many social networks already state under their respective terms of service that there is an age restriction to use their services, many ignore the fine print and use them anyway. Under Instagram’s revised terms of use, should there be any underaged users signing up to use Instagram, the company will assume that “at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to this provision (and the use of your name, likeness, username, and/or photos (along with any associated metadata)) on your behalf”. So, under these new policies – some of which actually violate international trade and privacy laws and guidelines – Instagram users have absolutely no say on every detail that they share on the platform. Unfortunately, there seems to be no way for users to avoid the seemingly Draconian policies; no other way, that is, than to delete your account entirely. This is because, when the policies come into effect, if users do not wish to be an unwitting star of an advertisement (or worse, your children being the unwitting stars) they need to delete their accounts before that date or risk having their content being fully permissible for Instagram to use. Naturally, the change has resulted in widespread anger among users. Blogger Vernon Chan has clearly shown how he feels about the change. What about you?

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Posted by on March 13, 2013 in Uncategorized


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