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Another Lesson Learned: Instagram Quickly Backtracks After Angering Its Users

This week, users of Instagram scored a victory with the company’s management over a plan to amend Instagram’s terms of service that would allow the third-party use of users’ photos without their permission or any form of compensation.  This change, which was scheduled to take effect in mid January, caused an uproar among Instagram’s user base.

Users complained most pointedly about the proposed changes’ retroactive application, and about the lack of an opt-out provision.  The new terms allowed Instagram to license photos for advertising or other purposes, even if those photos were uploaded before the new terms took effect.  And the only way to avoid these terms would be to delete your Instagram account.  The new terms went out of their way to emphasize that users still own their images and that the changes would affect only licensing rights, but what good does ownership do if Instagram can sell licenses with impunity?

In response to this widespread criticism, which was picked up and reblogged several times over, Instragram co-founder Kevin Systrom made a lengthy post that backtracked completely on these proposed changes.  He attempted to convince (unsuccessfully, in my opinion) that Instagram never intended to actually sell users’ images or even include them in advertising, and that this interpretation was a result of poor drafting of the new terms.  Mr. Systrom also stated that Instagram will be redrafting the new terms to make this intent (or alleged lack thereof) more clear.

Whichever way this saga ends, Instagram has signaled its intent to follow in the footsteps of its parent, Facebook, to increasingly leverage user data for advertising and promotional purposes.  After all, there is the old adage — when you get something for free, it’s because they are selling you.

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