Dec 18th, 2012

We mentioned it briefly in last night’s Android Overload but we figured we’d better “alert” those that may have missed it. Some changes to the now Facebook-owned Instagram is raising more than a few eyebrows this morning. Okay, maybe “raising eyebrows” is an understatement — people are freaking the $%#& out.

This, after some apparent changes made to Instagram’s Terms of Service — effective January 16th — could seemingly allow the company the right to sell its user uploaded ‘grams to a 3rd party. That selfie posted by your exhibitionist girlfriend? BOOM. Valtrex ad all over the net the very next day. Or at least that’s what the language supposedly suggests in the new ToS and what has everyone up in a tissy.

What’s interesting is Instagram really hasn’t changed much. They simply reworded some things in an effort to become more transparent with their users, in a sense explaining how they plan to monetize their service. Everyone seems to forget that Instagram is home to millions of users worldwide, yet you never see a single ad displayed in the app? How are those dudes even making money? Are your 612×612 photos really going to be sold to the highest bidder for use in billboards and child pornography sites? Instagram pushed this notification to their app today attempting to quell some of the backlash:

Nothing has changed about your photos’ ownership, or who can see them.”

There you go. Your private photos will still remain private and yes, you technically still “own” all of your photos. Nobody is going to take away your Toaster filtered pic of creme fraiche, only to sue you later for posting them to your own timeline. You’re good.

Now, when it comes to Instagram making a little side money by selling or rather, allowing a 3rd party to use them in ads, that’s a different story. One that should already sound very familiar if you’ve been using Facebook. Remember, folks — Facebook now owns Instagram. And the same way Facebook can display “sponsored posts” showcasing a product your friend has liked on your timeline, expect something similar on Instagram in the near future. Here’s an excerpt from the new Terms of Service:

“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.”

Yes, it sounds scary but don’t forget, in the US we already have laws in place that regulate what advertisers are even allowed to do with their ads. For instance, pictures of minors require parental consent, and when it comes to Instagram advertisers aren’t allowed to otherwise modify your photo in any way (this includes slapping a big Viagra logo on one of your pics). So, even though your fears of showing up in a Viagra ad should be next to nil you may still wind up in a sponsored post on Instagram if you hashtag “#Viagra” in one of your pics. But again, you won’t have to worry about when it comes to your kids appearing in a BabyGap store window.

It seems that any time we see changes to an online service’s ToS — Google most recently comes to mind — there’s always a huge backlash over privacy concerns from its users. And I get it, I really do. Privacy is important. I just find it ironic that these same people are uploading their entire lives to some company in the cloud to share with strangers they used to know in grade school, only to cry foul play when they realize there is no such thing as privacy on the internet.

But I guess the real concern comes from a lack of understanding. You’d think by now companies would learn to use more natural language, as opposed to legalese, when drafting out their Terms of Service. Even better, why not take the time to explain exactly how you intend on using these rights you’ve given yourself? Maybe then less people would rush for their pitchforks. But I guess Instagram is learning the hard way, posting to their Twitter and Facebook today:

“We’ve heard you that the updates to our Privacy Policy & Terms of Service are raising a lot of questions. We’ll have more to share very soon.”

Looks like clarification is indeed coming. In the meantime, I have some lunch to upload. We’ll let you know when we hear more.

How are you guys feeling about the whole mess? When uploading photos of your entire life to the world wide web, do you really expect any sort of privacy? Or is this simply a matter of personal rights?

UPDATE: Kevin Systrom co-founder of Instagram just took to the official blog to clarify the whole fiasco with their terms of service. Here’s the gist of it:

Advertising on Instagram – 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. 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.

Ownership Rights 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.

Privacy Settings Nothing has changed about the control you have over who can see your photos. If you set your photos to private, Instagram only shares your photos with the people you’ve approved to follow you. We hope that this simple control makes it easy for everyone to decide what level of privacy makes sense.

Can the internet finally just go back to posting selfies?

[via Instagram | CNET | The Verge]