Instagram can sell your photos, secretly put you in ads [Updated – Instagram says it won’t do either]

Instagram terms of service

Update: Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom has responded to the public outcry in writing, and clarified that “it is not our intention to sell your photos.” Furthermore, the company says that it does “not have plans” to make user photos part of advertisements. The response from Instagram comes after reports from The New York Times, CNet, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and many other publications (plus countless Twitter users) called out the changes. Instagram says that “it is our mistake that the language is confusing,” and that it plans to update its policies to remove ambiguity.

Instagram can sell your photos and put you in ads without your knowledge sell advertisers the ability to use your photos in conjunction with branding efforts on Instagram or Facebook, but not to make actual ads out of your pics in a way that modifies the picture, and they don’t have to tell you about it – and the only thing you can do about it is delete your account.

These are the details Instagram didn’t make clear to users on Monday when it announced changes to its privacy policy and terms of service, which includes the sharing of user data with Facebook and other “affiliate” companies. Instead, the company told users that “Nothing has changed about your photos’ ownership or who can see them,” and that the updated terms of service “help protect you, and prevent spam and abuse as we grow.”

The changes to Instagram’s privacy policy and terms of service come in conjunction with changes to the site governance documents of Facebook, which completed its purchase of Instagram earlier this year.

Instagram’s dirty changes, in detail

While Instagram does urge users to read its admittedly “dry” legal documents, it’s easy to see how an average user could be confused by what they mean. For example, Instagram’s terms of service state: “Instagram does not claim ownership of any Content that you post on or through the Service.” Sounds good, right?

Wrong. It goes on to say that, by using Instagram, you grant the company “a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service.” Furthermore, “you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, 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.”

In other words, Instagram and Facebook can sell your photos the ability to use your photos as part of brands’ advertising efforts, location data, and other information, to any third party (“other entity”) for the purposes of running ads on Facebook or Instagram, and you won’t get paid for it. This means that, if you take a photo of your kids playing at Disney Land, for example, they could end up in an ad in conjunction with brands’ promotional efforts on Instagram or Facebook, similar to Facebook’s ‘Sponsored Stories’ promotions, which could be seen by countless strangers. It also means that Instagram will likely soon be filled with ads.

If you ever wondered what the price of using free software and services is, you’re looking at it.

Speaking of kids, Instagram also appears to be trying to skirt past the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which prohibits the collection of personal data from children under the age of 13 without parental consent. Instagram’s terms now say that, if any kids use the app, that alone counts as consent from a parent or guardian. Or, as Instagram puts it, “you represent that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to this provision (and the use of your name, likeness, username, and/or photos (along with any associated metadata)) on your behalf.”

Finally, Instagram has added a clause absolving it of any liability if any of your private photos become public for some reason. In fact, it states that you cannot sue Instagram or Facebook for “any loss or damages of any kind.” Some states doe not allow companies to include limitations of liability, but many do.

What you can do about this

These changes go into effect on January 16. If you choose to continue to use Instagram after that date, then you are agreeing to the terms listed above. You’re only other option is to boycott Instagram and delete your account before that date.

What do you think of these changes? Will you continue to use Instagram after the new policies go into effect?