Update: Instagram gives in on privacy issues

The photosharing service Instagram will change key parts of its new privacy policy, which had enraged some of its 100 million users with its proposed use of member photos in paid ads.

Instagram image on Creative Commons.

News spread quickly online on Monday that Instagram had updated its privacy policy to give it a non-exclusive license to use your photos in its advertising and to potentially sell your photos to a third party.

By Tuesday, it was a revolt.

The announcement on late Tuesday afternoon clarifies how Instagram wanted to use the images and makes a commitment to not use them in paid ads.

“We’ve heard loud and clear that many users are confused and upset about what the changes mean,” Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom wrote in a blog post on Tuesday afternoon. “We’re going to modify specific parts of the terms to make it more clear what will happen with your photos.”

There was widespread outrage this week when tech blogs started interpreting the changes to the service’s privacy policy.

“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 this language is confusing. To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos. We are working on updated language in the terms to make sure this is clear,” Systrom said.

“The language we proposed also raised question about whether your photos can be part of an advertisement. 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 added.

In his statement, Instagram also took a veiled shot at the bloggers.

“Legal documents are easy to misinterpret,” Systrom said.

Here is the language that has upset users:

“Instagram does not claim ownership of any Content that you post on or through the Service. Instead, you hereby grant to Instagram 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, except that you can control who can view certain of your Content and activities on the Service as described in the Service’s Privacy Policy,” the changed Terms of Service agreement reads.

“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 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,” another key part reads.

Link: Read Full Terms of Service Policy

On the surface, the changes would have allowed your images to show up in paid-advertising sections within Instagram. But one key difference from a similar user policy used by Facebook (which bought Instagram) set off alarm bells across the Internet.

PC World points out that Facebook users who agree to a similar policy have the option to hide their photos from ads by changing their privacy settings. On the surface, Instagram users didn’t.

The tech web site CNET.com got to the heart of the matter that scared many current users.

“No other major photo-sharing service appears to have language as broad as Instagram’s, which claims the perpetual right to license users’ photos to companies or any other organization, including for advertising purposes, which could effectively transform the Web site into the world’s largest stock photo agency,” it said.

The policy change isn’t effective until January 16, so Instagram  can change the language in the next few weeks–and wait for a reaction.

And to be sure, people don’t have to enter into the voluntary service with Instagram. They can just download their photos and delete their accounts.

An attorney told CNET about one possible legal problem for Instagram, if it does pursue using submitted images in ads: Does Instagram have the rights to user images in ads that include people who aren’t Instagram customers?

“People in my photos, whether or not they are Facebook users, have rights. They certainly haven’t given consent to having their images appear in ads, even if I have allowed Facebook to use my photos,” said Daniel Schaeffer, an attorney with Neal & McDevitt.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told The New York Times that the policy could run afoul of state laws protecting people’s privacy.

“Most states have laws that limit the use of a person’s ‘name or likeness’ for commercial purposes without consent,” Mr. Rotenberg said. “The legal purpose is to allow people to obtain the commercial value of their images and endorsements, which is a big issue for celebrities and others, but also a reasonable concern for Facebook users whose images are used by Facebook to encourage friends to buy products and services.”

Also, a user waives any rights to class-action lawsuit when they use Instagram.

Writer Nilay Patel at TheVerge.com was highly critical of Instagram and Facebook, but Patel also said people are overreacting to the policy change.

“It’s a lot more like Facebook’s current ‘sponsored post’ system than anything else — there’s no way Instagram can up and sell your photos to anyone, and advertisers are fairly limited in what they can do with those photos,” Patel says.

“Make no mistake: Instagram screwed up royally by publishing these new terms of service and not explaining them in any way. They could be written better and more clearly, and Instagram’s intentions could be made much more plain,” says Patel.

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Patel says the reason that so many people are upset is that longtime users associate the changes with Facebook, which has battled privacy issues for years.

In 2009, Facebook faced a privacy revolt when it changed its policies, and it backed down.

Facebook faced an eight-count complaint from the Federal Trade Commission about its privacy changes. The case was settled and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg told users his company made mistakes, but it would strive to do better.

“I’m committed to making Facebook the leader in transparency and control around privacy,” Zuckerberg said at the time.

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