Instagram -- which has gone from plucky photo-sharing startup to cog in the giant Internet machine that is Facebook -- just had one of the roughest day of its existence. Late Monday, the app announced an update to its terms of service that has sent users into a tizzy.
While the way the new rules were written were confusing to many users, one thing was certain: Instagram would begin advertising. Nevertheless, a few things remained unclear: Would our Instagram photos be used in ads? Would they be sold to other organizations? Did we even own our photos anymore?
A flurry of rumors attempted to answer these questions. Popular Instagram user Clayton Cubitt dubbed the new policy "Instagram's suicide note," as noted by Gawker's Cord Jefferson. Singer Pink tweeted to her masses, in all caps: "I WILL BE QUITTING INSTAGRAM TODAY. WHAT A BUMMER. YOU SHOULD ALL READ THEIR NEW RULES." Many more users promised to quit Instagram by Jan. 16, 2013, the day the new terms take effect.
It had gotten so bad that by the end of the business day on Tuesday, Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom had to step in and clarify.
In a post penned on Instagram's official blog, Systrom untangled the legalese of the app's Terms of Service to clear up confusion about advertising plans. He debunked four myths that had developed in a single 24-hour span.
1) Will my photos be sold to anyone else?
No. This was one of the scariest rumors spread on Twitter on Tuesday. Systrom writes that the terms of service were "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."
2) Will my photos be part of an advertisement?
No. "We do not have plans for anything like this and because of that we’re going to remove the language that raised the question," Systrom writes. According to current plans laid out in the blog post, the only picture of yours that may be associated with an ad is your profile pic, similar to how "Sponsored Stories" work on Facebook. Thus, you may become an unwittingly spokesperson for a product from a brand that you follow, but your photos won't be used to shill for that brand.
3) Do I still own my photos?
An unequivocal yes. "Instagram users own their content and Instagram does not claim any ownership rights over your photos," Systrom writes. Ownership being revoked was a strange rumor to believe to begin with, since even the jargon-y original document states "Instagram does not claim ownership of any Content that you post."
4) Can everyone see my photos even if my profile is private?
Those posting pornographic "selfies" to Instagram can rest easy. "Nothing has changed about the control you have over who can see your photos," he writes. Simply put, private photos are staying private.
What the backlash against Instagram shows more than anything is that now that the app is owned by Facebook, people are going to assume the worst of it, just like they do of its parent company. Instagram, like Facebook, should expect any significant policy change -- in this case, the start of advertising -- to usher a wave of hate from members who will go on to still use the network.
Having members threat to quit en masse is a rite of passage for any social network. So rest easy, Systrom. You had a long day.
Read Systrom's full letter below:
Thank you, and we’re listening
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