Social Networking

User Revolt Prompts Instagram to Retouch Photo Policies

Instagram appears to be backtracking on plans to update its privacy policy and terms of service following an uproar from users.

The proposed updates were scheduled to come into effect Jan. 16.

Provisions that stirred users’ wrath apparently let the company use posted images in advertisements without asking for permission or paying the users, and let Instagram share user information with affiliated businesses, including Facebook, its new owner.

Fears the company would sell users’ photos to others without any compensation are unfounded, said Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom. Instead, user data, such as their profile photos and actions such as their following a business account, would be employed in conjunction with promotions by that business.

Such data might show up if users are following a business that wants to promote its account, but Instagram doesn’t have plans to employ users’ photos as part of an advertisement, Systrom said.

Who’s Zooming Who?

Systrom’s statements were presented as an attempt to clear up users’ confusion, and he said Instagram would clear up any confusing language in the updated TOS and privacy policy. However, he appears to have introduced a new area of confusion in the discussion about users’ photos and ads.

The distinction between employing users’ profile photos and actions in conjunction with promotions by a business, and employing them as part of an ad is a fine one, and may not sit well with users.

Further, while Instagram says in its TOS that it doesn’t claim ownership of any content users post on or through it, users grant to it a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable worldwide license to use such content. However, users can control who can view certain of their content and activities as described in the company’s privacy policy.

“Granting Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable worldwide license is essentially giving Instagram all your rights to a photograph,” Yasha Heidari, managing partner at the Heidari Power Law Group, told TechNewsWorld. “It is an extremely broad provision that should be unnecessary.”

Systrom’s statement about user data and business promotions “does sound like Instagram is backtracking,” Heidari continued. “Had this actually been Instagram’s original intention, however, then it would have been easy for them to modify their terms of service in a much more limited fashion, and in a way that would not have caused so much outcry.”

Perhaps Instagram is following in the footsteps of Facebook, Greg Sterling, senior analyst at Opus Research, suggested.

The company’s explanation that the outrage was basically a misunderstanding and that certain terms will be clarified “mirrors earlier furors that have arisen when Facebook has aggressively pushed the boundaries of information sharing and privacy,” Sterling told TechNewsWorld.

Instagram CEO Systrom’s response “is more PR spin than anything else,” Heidari said.

Possible Effects

The furor could adversely impact Instagram, Sterling warned.

A move is afoot to have users terminate their membership in the company. “There are numerous competing services, and, if a sufficient number of users abandon their accounts, [Instagram] could, within a year, become the MySpace of photo sharing,” Sterling commented.

“The issue isn’t what Instagram will do but what they could do,” Heidari pointed out. “When the TOS is so broad and you consider its other provisions such as its dispute resolution procedures that make the company extremely difficult to sue, then it becomes a situation where the company can do what it wants with limited recourse.”

Although Facebook users appear relatively unconcerned about privacy issues these days, with less than 33 percent responding to the company’s recent call to vote on privacy questions, the situation is different when it comes to photographs.

“The more personalized or intimate the information, the more concern an individual will have,” Heidari remarked.

Professional Photographers of America and other photography organizations are “crafting a joint statement on this subject,” PPA spokesperson Angela Wijesinghe told TechNewsWorld.

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