Instagram Apologizes for Putting the Cart Before the Horse

    December 22, 2012
    Josh Wolford

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.