On Instagram’s Terms of Service

The interwebs are abuzz with the news of Instagram’s updated Terms of Service agreement. In short, Instagram now states that, starting January 16th, they claim the right to sell any image, and the connected “metadata” (information imbedded in the image file, giving time, date, location, and so forth of the image) uploaded to the service to third parties, for commercial purposes, with neither payment, nor notification, nor even credit to the person who took and uploaded the image. Is this bad?

Yes. In fact, it is so horrifyingly unethical that you should cancel your account right now. I get that Instagram is free, and that they have to come up with some way to monetize their service, and I also get it that every single person using Instagram is doing so by choice, and has the choice to stop using it. So here it it:

Stop using Instagram. This new terms of service agreement is so radically anti-you that you should immediately take your phone photos elsewhere. Do not aid Instagram in violating common decency.

Some commentators have insisted that the reactions to Instagram’s ToS is nothing more than a paranoid reading of something buried way down in the legal language, and that it is very unlikely that any one image will be used in the way that the new contract claims. These commentators, though, might not be thinking deeply enough about where online advertising is going, and the possibilities that the new ToS opens to advertisers as well as social media hosts.

Here’s what I could see happening: Many of us are already familiar with how advertising works on site like Google and Facebook. Your page, and what you post or search for, are scanned for keywords, and advertisements are picked specifically for you based on the content of your page. This is golden for advertisers, because they are only paying for reaching relevant users.

What Instagram will now be able to do is to match keywords from, say, a Facebook user’s page, to tags and metadata in pictures uploaded to their site, and sell those images to advertisers who will deliver not just targeted ads, but custom-made ads for each individual user. So when you post that you just bought your tickets to Paris, Instagram can determine who your online friends are, which of those have been to Paris, and then present on your page an advertisement for a hotel, featuring an image taken by, or even an image of, your friends when they were in Paris. Your friends won’t know it, they won’t get paid for it, and they can’t say no to it.

In this scenario, it would actually be quite common to have your images used in advertising. Those shots of your cat? Do you think a cat food maker might like to show your friends YOUR cat, and tell them to buy brand X? Those shots of your dinner out? Do you think Olive Garden might like to show your friends the dinner you took a picture of, and let them know that you eat there, too? The beer you are drinking? Your trip to Disneyworld? Your attendance at event Y? This is advertising gold, because advertisers spend LOTS of money deciding how to make their ads relevant to potential customers. Instagram has solved that problem; they are going to let YOU make advertisements relevant to the potential customer you care about the most: yourself.

As a marketing idea, it’s kind of brilliant. But that’s not the point. The point is that Instagram has asserted that it has the right to all revenue generated by using YOUR images. They aren’t going to be using images for their own purposes, or their own corporate image; they are going to be selling your images to third parties. That is commercial photography folks, and they are taking a 100% commission. That is wrong.

Want to share your images elsewhere? Try here

Seriously. Get rid of Instagram.

Instagram/Facebooks response.   Keep in mind that Facebook does not have a convincing history of not changing their mind about these things once the furor dies down.