Instagram Clarifies Ad Plans, Responds To User Revolt

NatGeo-B2This was all just a big misunderstanding, Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom seemed to be telling users in an afternoon blog post that back-peddled from the company’s earlier changes in privacy policy and terms of service.  Shortly after issuing updated policies and changed language in its user agreements, Instagram suffered a massive wave of news stories, user revolts organized via Twitter and even a public declaration by National Geographic that it would cease publishing to the image sharing network.

Open-ended and blunt wording in the changed terms of service for Instagram left many users with the impression Instagram planned to use their posts and personal data freely in advertising.  Systrom said in his late-day post yesterday, “As we review your feedback and stories in the press, we’re going to modify specific parts of the terms to make it more clear what will happen with your photos.”

Systrom explained that Instagram’s intention was never to turn photos into advertising. “Our intention in updating the terms was to communicate that we’d like to experiment with innovative advertising that feel 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 the language is confusing. To be clear, it is not our intention to sell your photos.”

Celebrities, professional photographers and media organizations all raised questions about language in the TOS that suggested Instagram did not have to compensate image owners for any profit the social network made from the images. In fact National Geographic, which boasts one of the largest followings of any media brand on Instagram (645,000 followers) declared via an Instagram image yesterday that it was “suspending new posts to Instagram. We are very concerned with the direction of the proposed new terms of service and if they remain as presented we may close our account.”

Systrom explained that the company’s main goal is to avoid the use of intrusive mobile banners and to employ native forms of advertising. The example he cited involved having a company’s post featured in one’s image feed and attached to the post showing which of the people you already follow also follow this sponsor. “In this way, some of the data you produce – like the actions you take (eg, following the account) and your profile photo – might show up if you are following this business.”

Responding more directly to concerns raised by media companies, copyright holders and artists, Systrom added, “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.”

Rarely has a policy change at an Internet company created such a massive firestorm of press scrutiny and user protest in such short order. The original blog post announcing the changes occurred Monday night, and by mid-day Tuesday, users were organizing efforts to cancel accounts and news stories involving the changes and the controversy had already appeared at many of the major news outlets. 

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5 comments about "Instagram Clarifies Ad Plans, Responds To User Revolt".
  1. Thom Kennon from Brabble , December 19, 2012 at 9:13 a.m.
    Hey Steve, Gee, I dunno... i read Systrom's post last nite twice and seems to me it is a matter of degrees and not the nature to which they claim the right to use UGM within their monetizable formats. I guess we'll need to see how the revisions read, but in any event this whole mess was a massive mis-step & disconnect between their legal, business & brand teams. The battle lines have been drawn with FaceGram staring down Twitter in the fight for actual measured 'social media' that counts. You can bet the shareholders on the former's side will be very careful to insist on not too much of a backtrack from the over-reach their new TOS represents. @tkennon | +Thom Kennon
  2. Steve Smith from Mediapost , December 19, 2012 at 9:23 a.m.
    @Thom. I agree. See my moblog today as well.
  3. Catherine Wachs from Right Brain , December 19, 2012 at 10:57 a.m.
    What Facebook has never understood is that people want to feel in control of their information. Instagram would do better as a tiered service, offering special features to paid subscribers. For most tiered services, 90% of the free users are supported by 10% of the paid users. Free service would include ads. Companies would have to make the image/offer compelling enough to click (that pesky content issue). Those who hate ads understand they must pay. This has been Pandora and Hulu's model. It seems to be working for them.
  4. Tom Cunniff from Tom Cunniff , December 19, 2012 at 5:58 p.m.
    Brands are built on trust. Facebook is rapidly depleting the trust that their brand is built on. You can guess what happens if this keeps up. I nuked my personal Instagram account today. Facebook may be next. I'll still keep a FB account for business, but only because I must.
  5. Walter Sabo from SABO media , December 19, 2012 at 10:23 p.m.
    this is what happens when you give the A/V crew a billion dollars and no teacher supervisor