Insta-Hate For Instagram's New Rules

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Has a popular social network finally done the hitherto impossible: revise its privacy rules so drastically that a large chunk of its users flees? The situation is still developing at Instagram, but the free photo-sharing service that Facebook recently bought for $715 million in cash and stock may yet pull that off.

Instagram announced its new privacy policy and terms of service, both of which go into effect Jan. 16, in a low-key blog post on Monday. "Nothing has changed about your photos’ ownership or who can see them," it reassured users.

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That's true in a way that can look false. The new "ToS" document — at over 6,000 words, it runs about six times longer than the old policy – hides two inflammatory bits about a third of the way down.

One requires users to "agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos [...] in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you." There's no opt-out provision and no exception for users under 18.

Photos on Instagram are public by default, and the old terms gave Instagram arguably even more leeway to monetize those images.

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But now it looks more blatant.

The new terms' next clause warns Instagrammers that "we may not always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such." The Federal Trade Commission, which frowns on ads that aren't labeled as such, may not be amused.

The new privacy policy, only slightly more verbose than the old, appears innocuous in comparison.

The perception that your photo could get sucked into somebody else's ad–without a chance to rake in the proceeds — had upset enough Instagram users to jam the service's one endorsed photo-export option, a third-party site called Instaport.me.

Tuesday afternoon, co-founder Kevin Systrom posted a much longer follow-up that said Instagram would update the new terms to clarify that it would not sell photos to advertisers.

A service like Instagram — with iOS and Android apps to update and servers to run–has to cover its costs somehow. But selling ads isn't the only way to underwrite a free product; one common alternative is to charge a minority of users for added features or capacity, as Yahoo's Flickr service does.

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(Disclosure: While I have a Flickr Pro account, I have done little with my Instagram account beyond the above images. Applying canned filters to smartphone photos to fake the appearance of age never excited me.)

And posting sweeping, jargon-saturated terms of service and pretending they're no big deal is a monetization strategy Instagram should have definitely known to avoid. Its new corporate overlords could have told it all about that; in some ways, Facebook now looks good in comparison.

That last part is important. Not giving users tools to take out the data they've put in betrays a lack of respect. So does saying "trust us" while serving up several thousand words' worth of legalistic sludge.

Credit: Rob Pegoraro/Discovery