Instagram profiting from our pictures makes me want to vomit

Instagram has just announced changes to its terms of service which have annoyed pretty much anyone, anywhere including me. The new TOS will come into affect from 16th January and this will include a number of new stipulations which have been described as the most significant changes in its history. It refers to how user photos can be used by the company and of course its most recent owner Facebook.

These two points particularly caught my eye in its rights section:

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.

You acknowledge that we may not always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such.

This is interesting, so now you are going to take our content and sell it on without asking us? Nice work Facebook – coughs, sorry Instagram. You guys really do love a privacy policy though don’t you?

So what can I do to avoid this happening?

This is very simple – delete your account before the 16th. Yes that really is your only option.

I have seen other advice such as setting your account to private but that is pretty pointless if you use it to network, so that’s not really an option either although it will keep your content online.

The only other thing you can do is save your photos and use a different photo sharing site like Picasa. I imagine Twitter might be rubbing its hands together now as people begin to migrate from Instagram to other image providers.

In my opinion, this is crass, distasteful, and nothing short of pathetic but as its a free service there is very little we can do about it. It’s a real shame as it is a brilliant little app that was moving in the right direction. It  will be interesting to see what happens when one of the more high profile users like pop star Rihanna – gives it the boot. Do they really think Pop stars are going to allow them to use their imagery? I think this is Facebook’s Gerald Ratner moment. It’s one of the worst decisions I think I have ever seen – it’s profit over actual product.

Posted By Chris Norton

Chris is listed in the world's top 30 PR bloggers and a regular conference speaker on crisis management and social media marketing. He is also co-author of Share This Too and lectures on digital communications at Leeds Metropolitan University.



Yes but product without profit is a problem, surely? Instagram is a business – and one with a $1bn pricetag that it has to justify. There’s a stench of anticapitalism about the backlash which, although I admire the sentiment, is completely unrealistic.

Chris Norton

Thanks for the comment Dan – I appreciate it. I am not naïve and I understand that every business needs to make money but there were several different freemium models to use. I have been involved in quite a few businesses with freemium web models.

For instance, they could ask people if they would be willing to sell their images and offer a share of any profits and then everyone would love them. I imagine more than half would go for this. They could offer different levels for your pictures as some –such as family shots – may never want to be sold.

Or they could offer a free amount of pictures up to a certain point and then you have to pay – similar to the dropbox model.

In fact, there are hundreds of options they could have taken but what they wanted to do was get the rights to sell people’s images. They have been forced to deny they wanted the rights but the wording was very clear indeed and now we are getting the back tracking without the full apology. I still think this has been handled very badly but it has got them a lot of publicity they have been on the front of several national newspapers.

They need to make money but they didn’t have to take such a “Our way or the highway method”. The other worry I had was the actual legal legitimacy of trying to sell an image without specifically asking someone for their permission – that just wouldn’t have stood up in court anyway if someone had protested.


They were definitely bullish about it, and I’m glad to see they’ve backtracked – inevitable as that was.

What gets me, though, is the sense of entitlement people have over rights to content that they arguably don’t even own. I know this is a bone of contention, and even Instagram states that users have full ownership of their content – but I think that’s just lip service.

From the little I know of IP law, it is no way robust enough to make concrete decisions about this sort of stuff. In terms of IP on Instagram, I’d say that 90% of the creativity comes from the filters and effects of the service itself. Then Instagram provides the sharing mechanisms and hosts all the content – and has the only access to hi-res versions of photos. It’s a private sphere of business which is treated as a wholly public domain, and people are happy to spill the details of their lives into it – until something conflicts with their sense of entitlement.

I honestly think we’re kidding ourselves if we think we have any control over how our content and data is ultimately used – especially when the eggshell-treading brand culture of the social web fades and the gravy train begins to come to an end.

Either we accept that we don’t have control over our information once it enters these domains, or we don’t share it. Privacy online is ultimately a futile argument, in my opinion.

Chris Norton

I know what you mean that we shouldn’t expect to own our content. I accept Facebook owns my profile for instance but I wouldn’t want it to share my details with the world or my pictures of my family and if I knew – or was told it was going to do that – I would remove everything from it.

I think it’s an interesting time for social media with people being sued over tweets about people and privacy policies offending a lot of people. I think companies in this space need to remember that you can be big one minute and next week you are MySpace or Friends Reunited. If people don’t like the way a company is dealing with its details the crowd will move onto the next big thing.

I know what you mean about not sharing though but then do you mean not sharing publicly or privately? And then where does the line stop? That’s the problem nobody really knows.

Perhaps they should look at altering legislation so it takes all of these things into account and takes a more sensible approach. I for one wouldn’t mind paying for a soical media service (I pay for quite a few already) if it meant the data was mine and protected.

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