With the amount of backlash that came from the announcement of Instagram’s new Terms of Service, which gave Instagram the rights to sell your photos to advertisers without giving you any compensation, it didn’t take long for Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom to give an official reply.
His reply is that it was all just a big misunderstanding. Specifically, Systrom said in a post on the Instagram blog that “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 explain, Systrom proffered the following example to explain Instagram’s intentions –
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.
He goes on to claim that it’s not Instagram/Facebook’s intention to sell your photos to advertisers, and that Instagram will even be removing the language in the new Terms of Service that suggested that would be the case. That change hasn’t actually happened yet.
Currently, the section of the Terms of Service in question reads like this, in full –
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. If you are under the age of eighteen (18), or under any other applicable age of majority, you represent 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.
I’m not going to accuse anyone of lying. That said, Systrom’s assertion that we’re all just confused about Instagram/Facebook’s completely innocent intentions seems like a stretch. Maybe it’s just me, but the wording above seems awfully clear. It says right there – other companies can pay Instagram to display your photos in connection with promotions. Whether it’s Instagram using your data as Systrom described above or other companies actually buying your photos and using them in their own ad campaigns, you’re still being sold to marketers. How, I wonder, is that confusing? How am I, or anyone else, misinterpreting something that has been laid out so explicitly?
No, we should turn to another part of Systrom’s blog response – “From the start, Instagram was created to become a business.” It’s the most straightforward part of the entire post. It is a business, and it’s free. The only way it can ever make money is through advertising. Now that it’s owned by Facebook, a now-publicly owned company that is quickly realizing its own limited capacity to actually bring in revenue, Instagram will be made to squeeze every last drop of profit it can out of every last user. It will do this because Facebook demands it, and Facebook will do this because the shareholders demand it. It can be no other way.
Even if Instagram rescinds the new language, it’s free to change the Terms of Service at any time, without notifying you, and you will be subject to the new terms. If you’re really against the idea of being sold to advertisers, there’s no sense in accepting any mea culpas offered by Systrom when he and Facebook leadership can change the rules of the game at any time. The only way to win this game is not to play, and considering the traffic Instagram’s competitors have been enjoying the past couple days, it looks like that’s what an awful lot of people are deciding to do.