On December 17th of 2012, Instagram decided to change their terms of service for their users and make it so they now own the content you upload to their servers. That means, every picture of your Thanksgiving dinner is now property of Instagram. The response was immediate, hundreds of thousands of users deleted their profile, including a mass exodus by Hollywood celebrities who had helped make Instagram the billion dollar juggernaut it has become over the last few months. The New York Post reported that Instagram lost nearly a quarter of its users in just the two weeks following their terms of service adjustment. Unfortunately, the reporting on the change was sensationalized and the changes weren’t anything that different than any other place on the web.
Here’s what everyone is up in arms about:
“Some of the Service is supported by advertising revenue and may display advertisements and promotions, and you hereby agree that Instagram may place such advertising and promotions on the Service or on, about, or in conjunction with your Content. The manner, mode and extent of such advertising and promotions are subject to change without specific notice to you.”
The (admittedly) confusing language in the new terms of service made it sound like at any time, advertising partners with Instagram could use someone’s photos in advertisements. It’s possible that that was their intent, they have to keep the lights on somehow. However, privacy advocates and internet activists (yes, there is such a thing) lobbied Instagram to return their TOS to their original wording in 2010 when they first opened. The CEO of Instagram Kevin Systrom reacted quickly to their protests saying:
“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.” Systrom stated in the post.
It’s nothing new to see social networking sites go through their privacy growing pains. Google had to, Facebook still has problems with privacy concerns by its users and now it’s Instagram’s turn. The problem arises with the fact that no one has yet to figure out a good way to make money off of user content uploaded to their servers. Right now, most social media sites make their money through selling your information to advertising companies – nothing too specific – they’re mostly concerned with your age range, likes, dislikes, and how much money you’re likely to make. With the advent of Geotagging your photos, it’s even easier for advertising companies to target you effectively. Geotagging is the EXIF data that is uploaded on every photo you take with your smartphone. It gives anyone that has the proper software the ability to tell what kind of camera took the picture, and where it was taken.
The real problem is that people still don’t understand how much of their personal information is out there and can be used by advertising companies and social media sites to help pin down the type of person you are and what you are most likely to buy. Fortunately, Instagram has delayed what could be considered their privacy debacle (as mentioned, every other major site has had the same growing pains), so you are safe to upload filtered pictures of your dinner and happy times at the baseball game… for now. There’s still no telling what will happen with Instagram’s terms of service as Systrom has promised another update coming in 2013.