Just when you thought Instagram couldn’t infringe on your privacy any more, the company has updated their terms of service to reflect a rather concerning (and vague) set of policies that may cause users to terminate their accounts.
The personal and intimate feel that once made Instagram unique started to change back in November when the company introduced Web Profiles to its users. While some users (larger corporations, for example) relished at the opportunity to have yet another internet platform from which to promote themselves, other users expressed concern about the privacy implications that revolved around having an automatically-created web page associated with their account.
Instagram has insinuated that they have plans to introduce advertisements into the app’s interface, with the hope of it being a positive thing for users and brands alike. They have not disclosed any specific information about how and when this development would unfold. Given the new terms, however, it would be possible for them to sell any photo that is uploaded to the app to advertisers after January 16th, 2013. Photos shared before the16th will not be affected by the policy changes.
The new policy states that the company “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).”
In similarly vague language, the company states that they “may also share certain information such as cookie data with third-party advertising partners. This information would allow third-party ad networks to, among other things, deliver targeted advertisements that they believe will be of most interest to you.” May share? Certain information?
Not only will “certain” data be made available to advertisers, but the new terms also enable Instagram to sell your username information and photos. The policy states, “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.”
It would seem that the only way to avoid falling prey to Instagram’s new terms is to delete your account. But the policy also states that even after terminating your account, “Instagram, its Affiliates, or its Service Providers may retain information (including your profile information) and User Content for a commercially reasonable time for backup, archival, and/or audit purposes.”
What a “commercially reasonable time” is, we may never know. But it seems that the company’s interest lies in commercial advancements, not in the safety and privacy of its users.
Even underage users who have accounts are not exempt from the policy changes. Teens who sign up are consenting that a parent/guardian is aware that their username and photos can be used in advertisements.
Instagram’s blog provides a sugarcoated summary of the fine print. They claim that the updated terms “help protect you, and prevent spam and abuse as we grow.” How about all of the spam that you’ll get if Instagram starts to work with advertisers?
Their blog also states that “Nothing has changed about your photos’ ownership or who can see them.” Really? Nothing has changed? Perhaps the photos were never really the user’s own in the first place.
In response to the backlash, Instagram published a new post on their blog just moments ago, entitled “Thank you, and we’re listening.” Kevin Systrom, one of Instagram’s co-founders, hoped to clarify and eliminate any confusion that may have been generated due to the policy changes. He states that, “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.”
While they may not “have plans” to use your photos in advertisements or “do not intend” to sell your photos, who’s to say it won’t happen? Though Systrom’s message may have provided some damage control, many users are still up in arms. He advises users to stay tuned for more updates, as they are still finessing the policy.
Text: Nicola Parisi
Source: Instagram, NYTimes