Instagram: No plans to sell user photos as ads

FILE - In this Monday, April 9, 2012, file photo, Instagram is demonstrated on an iPhone, in New York. Instagram, the popular photo-sharing service that Facebook bought this year, is the target of a storm of outrage on Twitter and other sites after the company announced Monday, Dec. 17, 2012 a change in its user agreement that hinted that it might use shared photos in ads. (AP Photo/Karly Domb Sadof, File)
What changes at Instgram mean

wtopstaff | November 14, 2014 5:06 pm

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Megan Cloherty,

UPDATE: Tuesday – 12/18/2012, 5:15pm ET

WASHINGTON – Instagram posted a blog post Tuesday evening trying to clear up how users will be affected by the changes to its terms of use.

“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,” the blog post says.

EARLIER: Tuesday – 12/18/2012, 4:56pm ET

WASHINGTON – Instagram’s latest update to its terms of use suggest it may use uploaded images and ads without any compensation to users, including users under 18.

The new intellectual property policy change takes effect Jan. 16 and it’s generating outrage from users, CNET reports.

On WTOP, technology expert Donald Bell, senior editor at CNET, explained why the change to Instagram’s terms of service may be taking place.

“This is three months after Facebook has closed its purchase of Instagram and Facebook has been under fire I think from a lot of their stockholders now that they’re a public company to find a way to make some money. This could be one of those ways,” Bell says.

Under the new policy, “Facebook claims the perpetual right to license all public Instagram photos to companies or any other organization, including for advertising purposes, which would effectively transform the Web site into the world’s largest stock photo agency,” CNET reports on the policy changes.

And users are powerless in this scenerio, Bell says.

“As a user, it’s pretty infuriating. If you’re someone who is really into your privacy and do not [want] to see your family vacation photos turned into advertisements or something used to sell you on a hotel brochure, this could make you upset,” Bell says.

Not only does it put personal rights into question, but the New York Times reports it brings up the issue of state privacy rights as well.

In a blog post that offered few details, Instagram said the changes will help its service “function more easily as part of Facebook by being able to share info between the two groups.” Facebook Inc. also recently updated its privacy policy to allow for more integration with Instagram.

“This means we can do things like fight spam more effectively, detect system and reliability problems more quickly, and build better features for everyone by understanding how Instagram is used,” the blog post said, adding that the updates also “help protect you, and prevent spam and abuse as we grow.”

Under the current policy, Instagram is not as explicit in saying how it uses its members’ photographs. But the company already has the right to use people’s public content as it sees fit, though the photographers keep so-called “ownership” of the photos. The new terms make it clearer that Instagram could use your photos to market to your friends.

The idea that user photos could be sold as ads is still a hypothetical.

“They’ve just changed the terms of service. They’ve put the language in place that would allow this, they haven’t said outright that this is their plan to do this,” Bell says.

However, based on a tweet the company sent out Tuesday afternoon, it could be revisiting the change.

Instagram’s short blog post on Monday made no mention of advertisements or other commercial activities, though it offered links to the new privacy policy and terms of service. Those documents spell out what the service could do, but say little about actual plans.

While the selling of photos is not certain, there is no opting out of it for users. They would have to delete their account before the deadline when the new terms of service take effect, Jan. 16. Not doing so means users opt in to the new terms of service. That deadline is important to remember, he says.

“Even if you delete your account after the Jan. 16 deadline, if you agree to the terms of service and upload a few more photos before changing your mind and wanting to cut and run, there’s still language in place that Facebook owns the rights to your photos and … can do whatever they want with them,” Bell says.

Sweeping intellectual property rights have been questioned before, CNET reports. In 1999, Yahoo claimed all rights to Geocities using similar legal language as Facebook is using, but eventually the company backed down.

In response to users’ frustration with the change, Flickr, Blipfoto, and other services similar to Instagram are trying to get users to dump the service and opt for their app instead.

Instagram doesn’t currently run any ads. As of now, the free service has no way to make money and brings in no revenue to Facebook.

“As we have said in the past, we are continuing to evaluate when, how, and in what form advertising inside Instagram plays a role in creating value for users and brands alike,” Facebook spokeswoman Meredith Chin said in an email.

Follow @WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by AP and WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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