Instagram has decided to stick with its old terms of service after all. Co-founder Kevin Systrom blogged last night that the Facebook-owned company is reverting to its October 2010 terms, and has no plans at the time roll out any new ad products that would require a change.
He also wrote that in the future, the company will decide exactly what kinds of ad products it wants to offer before changing the terms of service. That way, Instagram's lawyers won't draft terms of service that give the company far more expansive rights than it actually needs for ad purposes.
Here's his exact language: "Going forward, rather than obtain permission from you to introduce possible advertising products we have not yet developed, we are going to take the time to complete our plans, and then come back to our users and explain how we would like for our advertising business to work."
For now, that shift probably will stem much of the recent criticism -- and, more importantly from Instagram's point of view, the threatened exodus. But long-term, the company still seems to have the ability to change many of its terms on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.
Already, experts are warning people not to rely on services they use for free. "Every cloud service provider goes rogue on its users inevitably," Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman says in a blog post about the Instagram debacle. "Where the business' interests diverge from users, users are going to be thrown under the bus."
Of course, there are some limits. For instance, a company that offers one set of terms when people sign up for a service, but then changes those terms midstream, might be engaging in deceptive behavior. Consider, Facebook faced a Federal Trade Commission complaint for changing its privacy default settings in 2009 in a way that gave some users less privacy than when they signed up for the service.
But even beyond any potential legal ramifications, users have the ability to walk away when they don't like new terms of service. As Instagram learned this week, companies that rely on users for content shouldn't take them for granted.