New Terms of Instagram Really Mean

Instagram_Filters_2011

Friday morning last week, I woke up and found out there is notification from my App Store to update my Instagram. Honestly, I have heard about the rumor Instagram will introduce new privacy agreement. I decided not to delete my Instagram account right away instead I was updating my Instagram. It was very intriguing to find out what Facebook trying to do this time.

Instagram released a few updates to its iOS and Android apps Thursday evening, adding a new filter called Mayfair and making some changes to how users can sign up add photos. The company has noted a bug related to privacy displays, which might concern some users. The ‘company’ was introducing few exciting features including 25 new languages, new and the new pink-ish filter and iOS6 recognition, which will allow Instagram users to sign up for the app without ever heading to Facebook’s screen, comes as the two companies continue to slowly merge together after this fall’s finalized acquisition.

Back to update my Instagram. I have put my Apple ID and has completed the update, suddenly my pupil is growing bigger after I found out new privacy agreement :

You agree that a business may pay Instagram to display your photos in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions without any compensation to you.

At first thought my panicked brain had an impression Instagram just gave itself permission to sell everyone’s photos at will. Put it this way, 5 minutes after You post your Yum Cha photo – The restaurant where You are enjoying their Yum Cha is using your photo for their ads at their front entrance. Is this really the future of Instagram?

Well, in a way. But 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. Here’s what’s going on.

Instagram’s new terms of service, which go into effect on January 16th, clearly state that your photographs and associated information (like location data) can be promoted by companies without anyone notifying you about the transaction. It’s not even hidden in legalese :

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.

The creepy part is, the next section says that Instagram “may not always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such.” They’re not even going to tell anyone about the ads. Ouch..

But let’s step back for a minute and think about what this actually means. First, just like every company we use to store data on the net, Instagram has always had expansive right to use and copy your photos. It has to — that’s how it runs its networks of servers around the world such as File Server Migration – Daily Backup etc. And well, Instagram’s existing terms specifically give the company the right to “place such advertising and promotions on the Instagram Services or on, about, or in conjunction with your Content.” Instagram has always had the right to use your photos in ads, almost any way it wants. We could have had the exact same freakout last week, or a year ago, or the day Instagram launched. In technical legal terms, Instagram doesn’t have the right to create a “derivative work” under 17 USC §106. The company can’t sell your photos, and it can’t take your photos and change them in any meaningful way.

So what can Instagram do? Well, put it this way. An advertiser can pay Instagram to display your photos in a way that doesn’t create anything new — so Asahi can put up a box in the timeline that says “our favorite Instagram photos of this bar!” and put user photos in there, but it can’t take those photos and modify them, or combine them with other content to create a new thing. Putting a logo on your photo would definitely break the rules. But putting a logo somewhere near your photos? Sounds Legit to me.

Sounds familiar? Hello? Basically what Facebook has been doing with Sponsored Posts for months now — advertisers can pay to “sponsor” your posts in various categories to make sure they prominently appear in your friends’ News Feeds. So if you “like” The Hobbit, the filmmakers can pay Facebook to promote that post across Facebook. The main difference is that Facebook is a little clearer about what can and can’t be promoted — you do lots of different kinds of things on Facebook, so it fundamentally has more things to sell. Pretty much all you do on Instagram is share photos, so there’s just not much else the company can do to make money except use those photos and your data to sell ads.

Well Instagram owned by Facebook anyway and we have learned our lesson how persistent Facebook is by failing us for privacy hoaxes.

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