Instagram Apologizes for Putting the Cart Before the Horse

    December 22, 2012
    Josh Wolford
    Comments are off for this post.

Instagram is not going to sell your photos. Instagram was never going to sell your photos. Although tricky language added to the company’s terms of service spawned the misguided outrage we’ve all lived through over the past week, hysterical users used social media to grow it to epic proportions. We can learn a lot from this little dustup, as can Instagram. Companies need to make their privacy policies easy to understand and users need to take the time to figure out what’s really going on before screaming about the sky and how it’s falling all around them.

Ok, lesson learned. So what’s next? What does Instagram do now that users’ backlash has forced them to backtrack on their new policy?

Well, after the obligatory apology, it seems that Instagram wants users to know that an ad product is probably coming, but they’re going to make sure they have a handle on its shape and form before they go making allowances for themselves.

Co-founder Kevin Systrom posted a message to users where he apologized again, and informed users that the offending wording has been officially removed from the company’s terms. Here’s what was, but is now gone:

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.

To me, that always sounded like Instagram was setting the stage for a Sponsored Story-like project. If it worked similar to Facebook’s companies could pay to attach users’ already-posted photos to advertisements inside the Instagram service. Instagram’s unclear language led some users to believe and perpetuate the “Instagram is going to sell all of your photos” mania.

Systrom makes another point to assuage users’ concerns regarding the selling of photos:

“You also had deep concerns about whether under our new terms, Instagram had any plans to sell your content. I want to be really clear: Instagram has no intention of selling your photos, and we never did. We don’t own your photos – you do.”

But Instagram clearly has advertising on their mind, as you would expect. Systrom has said that Instagram was always meant to be a business, and you have to imagine that the company’s need to generate meaningful revenue has only been magnified by the $1 billion Facebook acquisition.

And as far as that goes, Instagram says they will develop the ad product first, and explain later – instead of generically giving themselves allowances for an ad product not yet fully realized:

“Because of the feedback we have heard from you, we are reverting this advertising section to the original version that has been in effect since we launched the service in October 2010. Going forward, rather than obtain permission from you to introduce possible advertising products we have not yet developed, we are going to take the time to complete our plans, and then come back to our users and explain how we would like for our advertising business to work,” says Systrom.

Folks, Instagram won’t be selling all your photos. But some time in the (near) future, they will probably be using them in ads. It’s a free service, so that shouldn’t be a huge surprise. Now, let’s keep calm and continue filtering.

  • Dustin

    I doubt there was any customer positive lesson learned here. Only a lesson on their limits to milk customers.

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  • Phil Bowyer

    “Misguided outrage”? When a company uses a blanket statement that says they have UNLIMITED rights to your photos, then I think there is a need for outrage.

    If the statement read something to the effect of “we have rights to display your photos on our site” then I think it would be different.

    Facebook is not an ethical company. If you look at what they’ve done with their service over the last few years, and it seems the last couple of weeks has been quite the series of missteps. First the instagram fiasco, now they are letting people spam you for a buck.

    It’s this type of behavior which caused me to close my FB account over a year ago, and why I never had an instagram acct.

    It’s time to hold these companies accountable, but it’s also time for people to be responsible for their own actions and understand that we are the product on these sites, and these sites will push to see how far they can go exploiting you.

  • http://www.bloketoys.co.uk BlokeToys

    Josh Wolford – I think your language at the begining of this piece indicates some naivety, or positioning of blame unfairly.

    Instagram made a policy change which any sane person would translate in such a way. They did indeed indicate that they had the right to sell the work of their users. People didn’t simply “imagine” this, and overreact accordingly.

    You present this as though it were just a misunderstanding, but Instagram knew exactly what they were doing in that legal document.

    If Google announced tomorrow that they were changing their policy agreement to include a statement that they may, at any time, remove your site from organic listings at the behest of a fee-paying competitor, wouldn’t you be outraged?

    Let me guess, as long as they say “it’s not likely to happen” it’s okay?

    The fact is, they made this suggestion in their policy, people did not overreact. People read the information that was provided, and they understood what it meant.

    I think you rush to defend Instagram unfairly, accusing others of overreacting because you have a specific interest here. People should read the policy changes of companies like this for this very reason. Language is used in this way to give a different impression of the intention, and it’s up to the individual to “read between the lines” and assess how it affects them. In this case there wasn’t much reading between the lines to be done, because Instagram worded it so clearly a child could have understood what it meant.

    The only error Instagram made in that policy change was that they didn’t hire an expensive enough lawyer to make their intention almost unreadable by anyone without a law degree.