Instagram Terms Cause Internet Uproar

Instagram Terms Cause Internet UproarOne of the biggest stories from yesterday afternoon was Instagram’s announcement of new terms of service. The story is still getting headlines this morning. Oftentimes these terms of service go ignored; people simply agree and get on with it, never taking the time to read them. But yesterday Instagram users took the time to read their new terms of service and harnessed the web to unleash their backlash. In this backlash we have a reminder of how instantly the internet can crush something it deems inappropriate or wrong.

What’s the Big Deal?

Millions of people use Instagram, the filter-applying photography app purchased by Facebook for a cool $1 billion, on social media. There’s no doubt you know at least one person or company that has posted a picture using the Instagram app to make a picture look a certain way. Obviously, Instagram is about its user’s photos, and this is where the controversy over their new terms of service comes in.

Gerry Shih and Alexei Oreskovic with Reuters describe the changes as “a new, draconian grip over user rights.” Essentially, what Instagram proposed with its new terms of service is a take-it-or-leave-it mentality. Either you follow it, or you quit the service.

More importantly, as Gerry and Alexei note, “The new terms, which allow an advertiser to pay Instagram ‘to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata)’ without compensation.” There it was in plain English on their TOS: Instagram owns your data that you create with their app. This did not sit well with users, and competition pounced.

As Liau Yun Qing writes on ZDNet, the “proposed change to its terms and conditions has outraged users, with some vowing to quit the service.” Companies like Yahoo, Flickr, EyeEm, and others immediately jumped on the chance to attack their largest rival as they reassured their users that they would always own their photos.

Damage Control

Benge Nsenduluka at the Christian Post reports that Instagram executives “began implementing damage control late Tuesday.” Instagram execs have pulled a total 180, even insisting their intentions were not to generate advertising revenue from ownership of its user’s photos.

Whether this is true or not will probably never be known. Many are skeptical given Facebook’s ownership of Instagram and the recent drive Facebook has been pushing to monetize everything. Expect a policy revision, and also expect the company to go back to the drawing board about how it will generate more revenue. More importantly, users of the internet have shown once again that their opinions matter.

A Reminder of the Power of the Internet

This situation is a clear reminder that it’s much better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your content, your terms of service, or anything else you put on the web for the public. If something doesn’t quite seem right or smells of arrogance, offensiveness, or inadequacy, don’t think it will pass unnoticed. People pay attention, and they will hit you with the very same tools you rely on to expand your clients’ brands.

Even if the new terms of service was a communication error, the people of the internet gave Instagram a reminder how quickly and virally something can be crushed, justifiably or not. Instagram did the right thing to apologize quickly and promise to fix the changes. Hopefully we see a lot less of these events occurring in 2013.

What do you think of the Instagram terms of service snafu? Do you take steps to prevent situations like this happening with your clients?

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Patrick currently lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, where he is studying for a Master's Degree in Intercultural Relations. Upon graduation from Penn State in 2008, he spent two years overseas in Kyrgyzstan with the U.S. Peace Corps. While writing is currently his chosen way to put food on the table, he loves fitness and exercise, which he believes makes up for his avid computer gaming habit.

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