The internet is freaking out over Instagram’s new Terms of Service – But is there really cause for concern?


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]

Chris Chavez
I've been obsessed with consumer technology for about as long as I can remember, be it video games, photography, or mobile devices. If you can plug it in, I have to own it. Preparing for the day when Android finally becomes self-aware and I get to welcome our new robot overlords.

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  1. It irritates me because I don’t think this would’ve happened hadn’t Facebook bought Instagram :(

    1. It would have. Instagram needs to find a way to make money. Nobody offers anything for free. Do you have any idea how much it must cost them just to maintain the servers to host all those dang images?

      1. Hey if it take a few ads to make sure everyone sees my slightly out of focus heavily filtered picture of the round coffee stain left by my triple latte ultra mocha grande, then so be it.

        1. they’ll do both. Plaster the pages with ads as well as sell your photos in a stock photo site, “best of”, calendars and so on. This was their plan for quite some time. They amass enough content and users to make it profitable to sell their pics. It’s known.

          1. No stock photo site is going to want a bunch of poor quality smartphone pics cropped to 612×612. Lol

      2. Chris, as usual, excellent article. I think the biggest problem people have with these social networking services is they think they are the customer. When in reality they are actually the commodity being sold. As soon as people understand that then they’ll stop complaining and either deal with it or leave the service.

        1. Yup. I think you nailed it on the head. I just don’t get all the “complainers.”

  2. I deleted my Instragram account the day Facebook purchased them.

    I wanted nothing to do with Facebook

    1. Same here. I quit Facebook a year ago. Didn’t even jump on the Instagram wagon. I like my privacy.

      1. You know Google knows every single thing about you, right? Even more than Facebook. O_o

        1. Google has not openly stated that they sell our private data to third party. Facebook has.

          1. The ads on your side bar are just magically attuned to your past browsing data then?

          2. The way I understand it, is Google bundles groups of users data, and finds advertisers. But they don’t sell you as an individual. Google is like a middle man, they conceal your identity. Facebook on the other hand, links your name, and all your demographics directly to you. Then they copy all your browsing history, and sell it.

          3. I’ve noticed that too. I don’t lyk how I see an ad and it’s all lyk, “your friend like this”. The people they pick make no sense. I know most of my friend wouldn’t go out their way to like some of that stuff.

  3. If they want to use my intellectual property, they had dang well better pay me for it.

    Account deleted.

    1. But they’re not using your intellectual property. They’re simply saying that if you follow a business, your Instagram profile might show up as “TalkingMoose Follows Coke Cola”



      2. You’re trying to hard to stick up for a service where people post crappy photos of their coffee and food using dated filters. Time to move on Chris.. instacrap is the new myspace.

        1. Instagram is just taking off. I like the service. You don’t get all the crap that comes with Facebook. Just people living life and sharing pictures of everything in it. It’s fun :T

          1. Agreed, instagram is my favorite social media destination. I still follow the same rules with instagram as others, don’t post anything you consider to be private or personal.

  4. Deleted my account today

  5. It’s a ridiculous service in the first place. I’m with Jon Stewart, who called it “really lame.” Any service that continues to alienate its users deserves what it gets.

  6. First our online privacy is taken away. Soon, our RL privacy will go too.

    1. Put the automatic machine gun down, Nightscout O_o

      1. I plan to retire that avatar soon…..

        1. Why? Stand up for your right to bear arms. Be proud that you are a responsible gun owner.

          1. For sure, but I change my avatar every so often…..

  7. Gee, why would anyone be confused…”you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your…photos…without any compensation to you.”

    This language doesn’t seem very confusing. I guess Instagram says I still own my photo but they are the ones who get to sell the rights to it. That seems more confusing than the original langauge.

    Oh well, I’m not a bit instagram user, but deleted my account.

  8. Lol. Chris, I love watching even the people who read this article freak out, and then watching you reply to almost every comment assuring them there is nothing to be afraid of.

  9. I find it funny that people are freaking out over privacy on facebook……….


    1. instacrap. Hipsters and iJunkies are upset because this was their defacto service for posting non-meaningful pictures.

      1. you should say shitstagram instead of instacrap. it sounds better and doesn’t make people think of instant food products.

  10. I never understood the whole Instagram fad from the start. It’s just a bunch of hipster filters to make crappy cellphone pics look more “artsy fartsy”. Just like how curry makes rotten food taste better.

    There’s dozens of other photo-effect apps. *shrug*

    1. that’s mostly true but there are a lot of real photographers form ameature to pro trying to get more followers/customers to make a living just like on 500px or other photo related sites.

      1. most pros use 500px. Instagram crops and compresses photos beyond repair. Also, most use those crappy dated filters. Instagram was never pro. It was an easy way to post and share crappy pictures on a crappy service using an app.

        1. A lot of the photographers i know use instagram to attract more followers with links to their other sites on their page. Just as they do with Flickr, Facebook, Google+ and twitter. It attracts a larger demographic that might not know about 500px.

    2. Filters are a tiny feature Instagram offers — it’s not what it’s all about. Instagram is first and foremost a social network. One that’s based around sharing pics of your life.

  11. Good job with the acknowledgement of this being posted previously. Now i don’t have to swim through 3 pages of”omg, phandroid sucks, u postid dis yesturday, screw you krissss! “

  12. This is the way of social media/networking sites nowadays. They push the limits of privacy and hope no one notices. Facebook is really good at this so it’s not surprising that instagram has begun utilizing this technique. Typically they will take 2 steps forward in taking your privacy, and take one step back after there’s backlash. They’ll repeat this over and over. Slowly but surely, everyone is losing their privacy without even realizing it. From these press releases, it sounds like Instagram is taking a step back without admitting to what they really intended to do. That said, I couldn’t care less because I’m not making money off anything on my facebook account and if I had a instagram account I wouldn’t be uploading anything important on their either. I could see how this ToS could be unsettling for aspiring or professional photographers who upload things on instagram.

  13. THAT’S IT. I am going to sell everything and go live in the friggin’ woods. O.O

    1. It’s the only option O_o

  14. But seriously, Chavez nailed it. Anyone who thinks that anything they put on the Internet is completely private is ignorant of what the Internet is. The should be required classes.

    And valtrex? What kind of girls you been dating, Chavez? O.o

  15. I always laugh when I read about people deleting apps or services over “privacy” or when an app changes its TOS. Grow up morons, no one cares about you, none of you are that important that someone is going to look at your boring text messages, etc. Besides if the govt really wanted to read your texts or see your web habits, etc, then deleting an app wouldnt quite prevent them from doing it now would it ?? losers. I deleted Instagram the week i installed it because it was boring, I have more filters on the camera of my One S then instagram has, and if it truly is a “social network” it must be secret because its not obvious.

    1. Nobody cares what apps you delete or how many filters you have or what phone you have. If anybody wanted to know they would have asked you. Loser.

      1. Nobody cares that nobody cares.. Simples

  16. @Gamercore:disqus, is that your car?

    1. Yup yup! Mitsubishi Outlander :)

  17. yet another hipster service with a bunch of users and no revenue model in sight. Is this what I was dreaming about back in 1990s for 2012 ? i thought human expedition to mars, instead all I get is a bunch of shitty photos passed off as art on a shitty network as the heights of innovation is silicon valley. Makes me want to puke.

  18. The funniest thing here is that 99% of everyone in a hissiefit over this don’t even ever read ToS’s for anything/everything we download/use(myself included) but it’s because 1 or 2 people actually take the time to read through it and then report on it. People… we blindly hit “accept” on terms everyday… and you are surprised when you find out a company is doing something weird and its not right? then STOP hitting accept all the time!

  19. I was waiting for an intelligent article about this. I myself and the majority of my friends work in the entertainment industry, so the freak out was on par with the apocalypse… Which just goes to show you how little, even those who should know copyright laws for their livelihood, know about privacy rights and copyright laws! It’d pretty sad. Great article. Thanks again phandroid for proving me right :)

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