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Instagram Is Not, Nor Were They Ever Going to Sell Your Photos

Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom finally made a move to stop the bleeding with a blog post directed at users who feel betrayed by the company’s new privacy policy. “To be clear: it is no...
Instagram Is Not, Nor Were They Ever Going to Sell Your Photos
Written by Josh Wolford
  • Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom finally made a move to stop the bleeding with a blog post directed at users who feel betrayed by the company’s new privacy policy.

    “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,” said Systrom.

    In reality, Instagram was never going to “sell your photos,” at least not in the manner that caused millions of users to freak out over. Although the new policy added quite a bit of new language, one part in particular seemed to be the source of all the hullabaloo.

    “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,” says Instagram in their revised terms.

    Many jumped to the conclusion that this meant Instagram was about to be in the business of selling users’ photos to anyone and everyone, for any unspecified use. In reality, this simply wasn’t true. Instagram still said that users own their photos, but gave themselves “transferable” and “sub-licensable” rights to all content on the site. Those are the same kind of rights expressed by Facebook (and YouTube, and Twitter). Instagram was never going to allow your photos to be taken and modified. What was more likely is that the company was setting the stage for a Sponsored Stories-like ad product, similar to the one used on Facebook. That’s an in-house advertising product that allows companies to pay to promote already-taken actions in relation to their product or service. Think taking a photo of Caesar’s Palace and having Caesar’s Palace use that unmodified photo in a promotion within the Instagram ecosystem.

    Still not ideal for most users, I’ll grant that. But far from the apocalyptic scenario imagined by some.

    In his blog post, Systrom reiterates that users own their content:

    “Instagram users own their content and Instagram does not claim any ownership rights over your photos. Nothing about this has changed. We respect that there are creative artists and hobbyists alike that pour their heart into creating beautiful photos, and we respect that your photos are your photos. Period.”

    He also talks about advertising on Instagram:

    To provide context, we envision a future where both users and brands alike may promote their photos & accounts to increase engagement and to build a more meaningful following. 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.

    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. Our main goal is to avoid things like advertising banners you see in other apps that would hurt the Instagram user experience. Instead, we want to create meaningful ways to help you discover new and interesting accounts and content while building a self-sustaining business at the same time.

    Instagram says that they will revise the new terms of service to reflect people’s concerns. One of those changes will be to remove the language that appeared to pave the way for Sponsored Stories on Instagram.

    But Systrom makes an important point. “From the start, Instagram was created to become a business,” he says. The point here is that Instagram will most likely continue to look at way to construct ad products, and those may involve user data. “Advertising is one of many ways that Instagram can become a self-sustaining business, but not the only one,” says Systrom.

    “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.”

    We’ll have to wait until we read the revised terms to make a final determination, but we predict that this little privacy uproar will soon be forgotten.

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