A user revolt has spurred Instagram to promise to revise a passage in its terms of service that appeared to reserve the right to license people's photos to advertisers.
The Facebook subsidiary yesterday posted new terms that included this questionable clause: "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 user name, 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."
Instagram users weren't happy about the idea that their photos could end up used by advertisers for free. The reaction was completely predictable, given that many photographers -- full-time professionals as well as more casual hobbyists -- rightly expect to be compensated when images they capture are used commercially. Instagram rival Flickr already gives users this opportunity through deals with Getty Images.
By Tuesday afternoon, countless users publicly said they intended to delete their accounts before Jan. 16, the date the new terms of service take effect.
The digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation weighed in with a post pointing out that users who remain with the service have no idea what rights they are giving up. "It is very hard for you to make an informed choice, since Instagram has not explained how it will implement this monetization," the EFF says.
Faced with this barrage of criticism, Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom backtracked. He blogged this afternoon that the company will not incorporate users' photos in ads. "We do not have plans for anything like this and because of that we’re going to remove the language that raised the question," he writes. "Our main goal is to avoid things likes advertising banners you see in other apps that would hurt the Instagram user experience.
How will Instagram boost revenue? Systrom indicates that the company plans to run ads that are comparable to Facebook's sponsored stories. "Let’s say a business wanted to promote their account to gain more followers and Instagram was able to feature them in some way," he writes. "In order to help make a more relevant and useful promotion, it would be helpful to see which of the people you follow also follow this business. In this way, some of the data you produce -- like the actions you take (e.g, following the account) and your profile photo -- might show up if you are following this business."