Instagram updates privacy policy, inspiring backlash

Users are concerned over how their photos could end up in advertisements on Instagram, and possibly Facebook

Users and critics are growing concerned over privacy rights after Instagram recently posted online changes to its terms of service and privacy policy. The new Instagram rules aren't set to go into effect until January 16, but users are concerned over how their photos could end up in advertisements on Instagram, and possibly Facebook, Instagrams parent company. This latest privacy flap highlights, once again, the continuing tension between privacy concerns and using a free service that lets you connect with others across the globe.

User-supported advertising

Instagram's new terms of service, under the heading Rights, says the following: 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.

In short, advertising you already see on Facebook, such as an ad showing a friend who liked a certain product on Facebook, is headed to Instagram. And Instagram photos may also end up being used for ads on Facebook.

It's not clear what form these ads might take. I'm guessing that if, for example, you take a photo of a can of Coca-Cola, Instagram could then let the Coca-Cola Company pay for that photo to feature prominently in your follower's streams or on Facebook.

Instagram's current terms, set to be replaced on January 16, also imply that your photos could be used for advertising: You hereby agree that Instagram may place such advertising and promotions on the Instagram Services or on, about, or in conjunction with your Content.

Facebook already uses your name and profile picture for advertising, but the social network does allow you to opt out of using your likeness for advertising in its privacy settings.

Ads aren't ads, unless they are

Perhaps more concerning is that ads using Instagram photos don't necessarily have to be identified as ads. You acknowledge that we may not always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such, point three of Rights under Instagram's updated terms say.

Hey, kids: You said your parents said it's OK

In a moment of let's cover our butts legalese, Instagram also says that anyone under 18 who is using Instagram is assumed to be doing so with their parents permission. And, as such, their information can be used in an ad. If you are under the age of eighteen (18)...you represent that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to this provision (and the use of your name, likeness, username, and/or photos (along with any associated metadata)) on your behalf, Instagram's new terms say.

Users react

Instagram announced the upcoming policy changes on its blog and it didn't take long for users to take to their Tumblr accounts to criticize the changes. The photo-sharing network claims the new terms would allow Instagram to function more easily as part of Facebook, and help fight spam and detect system and reliability problems more quickly.

The end of my Instagram account, said Tumblr user Lee Djinn. Deleting IG on 31 December 2012.

They [Instagram] inserted language giving them the rights to sell your photos for use in advertisements without notifying or paying you, or getting your permission, complained Tumblr user Kenny Vee. And theres no opt out other than to delete your account by January 16th.

Alright, Instagram, nice to have known you! Bye, bye! Not angry, because youre about to sell the pictures of users, but angry about that you dont even ask, said Peter Burger.

What does Instagram now having the right to sell OUR photos have to do with safety or with avoiding spam? Absolutely nothing, said another Tumblr user, reacting to the changes.

The reaction to Instagram's new terms is reminiscent of a change Facebook made in 2009 to its terms of service. That change, critics said, gave Facebook ownership over user data for advertising and other purposes. Facebook's 2009 terms debacle sparkedwidespread outrage and a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. The social network eventually retracted its policy changes and instituted a new site governance method that gave users the right to vote on Facebook site policies.

Ironically, Instagram's controversial new policies are a direct result of Facebook's recently revised terms that removed user voting on site policies.

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