Instagram suicide note (new legal TOS): we have the right to sell your photos to the highest bidder

// December 18th, 2012 // Internet


Instagram logo (camera)Instagram is changing its terms of use in January and eagle legal eyes spotted a section that pointedly states that if you use the Instagram service, you agree to grant Instagram the right to license and sell your personal pictures to other businesses “without any compensation to you”.  Users of the service are outraged.  The new policy takes effect on January 16 (three months after Facebook completed its acquisition of the popular photo-sharing site). Unless you delete your account before the January deadline, you cannot opt out.  This will effectively turn Instagram into the world’s largest stock photo agency.

And it gets worse. EFF told CNET:

“If Instagram users continue to upload photos after the January 16, 2013 [deadline], and subsequently delete their account after the deadline, they may have granted Facebook an irrevocable right to sell those images in perpetuity. There’s no obvious language that says deleting an account terminates Facebook’s rights.”

The section that has users upset states:

“Some or all of the Service may be supported by advertising revenue. 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.”

Google’s policy, by contrast, is far narrower and does not permit the company to sell photographs uploaded through Picasa or Google+.  Google’s TOS states that they will only use your photos to improve their service.

We’re not sure how children’s photos fall in this new legal arrangement but I would guess it could trigger a whole slate of privacy violations.  But hey, it’s a free service that’s about to be monetized.  We’ll wait for further clarification from Instagram and Facebook.

Update: 12/18/12 Instagram quickly updated their blog saying they have no intentions of selling the photographs of Instagram users and will tweak their TOS accordingly.


Here is their blog post in its entirety:

Thank you, and we’re listening

Yesterday we introduced a new version of our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service that will take effect in thirty days. These two documents help communicate as clearly as possible our relationship with the users of Instagram so you understand how your data will be used, and the rules that govern the thriving and active Instagram community. Since making these changes, we’ve heard loud and clear that many users are confused and upset about what the changes mean.

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.

Legal documents are easy to misinterpret. So I’d like to address specific concerns we’ve heard from everyone:

Advertising on 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.

To provide context, we envision a future where both users and brands alike may promote their photos & accounts to increase engagement and to build a more meaningful following. Let’s say a business wanted to promote their account to gain more followers and Instagram was able to feature them in some way. In order to help make a more relevant and useful promotion, it would be helpful to see which of the people you follow also follow this business. In this way, some of the data you produce — like the actions you take (eg, following the account) and your profile photo — might show up if you are following this business.

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 likes 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.

Ownership Rights 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.

I always want you to feel comfortable sharing your photos on Instagram and we will always work hard to foster and respect our community and go out of our way to support its rights.

Privacy Settings 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. We hope that this simple control makes it easy for everyone to decide what level of privacy makes sense.

I am grateful to everyone for their feedback and that we have a community that cares so much. We need to be clear about changes we make — this is our responsibility to you. One of the main reasons these documents don’t take effect immediately, but instead 30 days from now, is that we wanted to make sure you had an opportunity to raise any concerns. You’ve done that and are doing that, and that will help us provide the clarity you deserve. Thank you for your help in making sure that Instagram continues to thrive and be a community that we’re all proud of. Please stay tuned for updates coming soon.


Kevin Systrom co-founder, Instagram

 Update 12/18/12: National Geographic, or @NatGeo, one of Instagram’s most popular accounts with 638,629 followers — and certainly one of its most storied names – stunned the Instagram world late Tuesday by announcing it was suspending its posts to the service.

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