Instagram cofounder Kevin Systrom responded to a firestorm of protests from users of the photo-sharing social network’s proposed terms of service changes that could impact the privacy of its users.
Systrom blamed confusing legal jargon for the misunderstanding and said Instagram would not be selling users’ photos once the terms go into effect Jan. 16.
“Our intention in updating the terms was to communicate that we’d like to experiment with innovative advertising that feels appropriate on Instagram. Instead 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,” Systrom wrote in a blogpost. “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 also addressed concerns that personal photos could suddenly appear in advertising without a user’s permission, or compensation.
“We do not have plans for anything like this and because of that we’re going to remove the language that raised the question. Our main goal is to avoid things like advertising banners you see in other apps that would hurt the Instagram user experience,” Systrom said. “Instead, we want to create meaningful ways to help you discover new and interesting accounts and content while building a self-sustaining business at the same time.”
Privacy experts expressed initial concerns over the lack of an opt-out option; users would have to delete their accounts before Jan. 16 to avoid the issue.
“If users are dissatisfied with a social network’s practices, they should have the ability to leave – which means being able to remove one’s entire account so that the data is no longer under the social network’s control,” said Electronic Frontier Foundation senior staff attorney Kurt Opsahl on the organization’s website. “ Here, however, if you agree to these terms, and then – perhaps after the commercialization feature is activated sometime next year – decide to leave the service, Instagram retains the ‘non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license’ to all of your photos.”
Systrom said that nothing will change with regard to photos that are marked private by Instagram users; only approved viewers may see those images.
“Instagram users own their content and Instagram does not claim any ownership rights over your photos,” Systrom said. “Nothing about this has changed.”
Instagram was acquired by Facebook in April for $1 billion. It operates as a subsidiary of Facebook and has more than 100 million registered users.
The EEF’s Opsahl said that users could have an out since Facebook had been reprimanded for a lack of opt-out options in the past; the policy changes could also run afoul of some state privacy laws, he said.
“It violates the principle of user control, since there is no explicit opt-in permission from the user for this change in how user content will be used,” he said.