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InstaGram Is Changing Its Privacy Terms: Why I’m Staying Put

by Abby Kerr

in Uncategorized

About this column

Big news out of InstaGram headquarters: InstaGram, the beloved photo-filtering app for iPhone and Android that was acquired by Facebook earlier in 2012, recently announced a change to its Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

Horses, taken with Abby Kerr, on InstaGramIf you haven’t heard, here’s the scoop, straight from the horse’s mouth. (By the way, I filtered the photo in this post using InstaGram for iPhone.)

I’m an avid InstaGram user.

I IG something in my life — or someone, or some plate of food, or some landscape — almost every day, often multiple times a day. (Yes, I know that sounds a little ridiculous to all you non-IG users. But I’m not quite this bad.)

I dig InstaGram. A lot.

I follow brands there and I follow people there.

I experience a deeper sense of community — of the type people commonly say they find on Facebook — than I’ve found on any other social media platform.

I like getting tiny, stillshot glimpses into the lives of people I know and care about. I like that the interface is relatively text-light. I like that saying I’m with you is as easy as clicking the ♥ button. (Somehow it feels entirely more intimate than clicking Like on Facebook.)

And yet, my InstaGram account is private and, for the foreseeable future, will remain private.

I don’t IG for business, as a web traffic generating tool. (No judgment on those who do.) I don’t link to my InstaGram account from my social media panel on my site. My account is private, which means people have to send me a Follow request to view any of my photos. And I deny almost all of the Follow requests I get. Unless you and I have had a voice conversation (or two), or we go way back on social media through many, many warm interactions, I probably won’t be clicking Accept.

Why? Because I use InstaGram like a photo diary — one that I care to share only with people I already know in some way.

I snap and filter moments in my life that aren’t business-related. They’re personal. And, to some degree, private. (And yes, — snicker — subject to InstaGram’s Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.)

There are select photos from my InstaGram account that I do share publicly, via Twitter or my business Facebook page. The others? Well — me stirring chocolate batter over a double boiler for no-bake cookies? Is that really all that interesting to someone who was drawn to my brand to learn about brand strategy, copywriting, and voice development? Yep, I hear you — we want to know the person behind the brand. Of course we do! In — I would argue — a composed way. And InstaGram — that’s one little space where I let myself go off-composition.

My interest in InstaGram as a user is that I can maintain the private space there that feels good to me.

And according to InstaGram’s latest articulation of its new terms, this is exactly what I can keep on doing. This is from the article I linked to at the top of the page:

Privacy Settings Nothing has changed about the control you have over who can see your photos. If you set your photos to private, Instagram only shares your photos with the people you’ve approved to follow you. We hope that this simple control makes it easy for everyone to decide what level of privacy makes sense.”

Most of the hubbub I’ve heard in the Twitterverse and blogosphere is around the misconception — at least for now it’s a misconception — that InstaGram has plans to sell our photos for ad spots.

Here’s this, from the same article I linked to above, from co-founder Kevin Systrom:

Advertising on Instagram From the start, Instagram was created to become a business. Advertising is one of many ways that Instagram can become a self-sustaining business, but not the only one. 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. 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. . . .

Ownership Rights Instagram users own their content and Instagram does not claim any ownership rights over your photos. Nothing about this has changed. We respect that there are creative artists and hobbyists alike that pour their heart into creating beautiful photos, and we respect that your photos are your photos. Period.

So for now, I’m staying put on InstaGram, whose terms really aren’t all that different from its parent company Facebook’s, whose ever-changing Privacy Policy and Terms of Use I find obnoxious, though not aggregious.

After all, whether they yet have sustainable business models or not, these two software platforms don’t exist to foster community — although that’s what they end up doing.

They exist to seek profitability, and they’ll iterate until they figure out what that looks like, and until they find a business model that meets their users’ needs at a core level, so much so that enough of us will gladly “pay” (in some way) to keep interacting with the brand as often as we want to. I don’t fault them. Isn’t that what microbusinesses like yours and mine are doing every day?

For now, I’ll gladly stick with the IG company I keep.

In the comments, I’d love to know:

InstaGram: you jumping ship? Why or why not?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul December 19, 2012 at 8:43 am

I assume that if I’m posting content on a *free* app, where the data lives on *their* services and they’re owned by a huge corporation, that they’ll do what they please with that data regardless. So going in I figured their ToS were the case (and assume that of any social media platform). Whatever you post on the web can and does get lifted/taken/used sometimes without your control.

I love instagram too—and they’re more than welcome to use photos of my naked rats or vegan food for whatever they want. ;-)

As a company, they played the whole situation totally wrong, but I really think people feel far too entitled about “free” software. I know what goes into making, maintaining and updating something like that.


abby December 19, 2012 at 8:52 am

As a company, they played the whole situation totally wrong . . .

Good point. Their announcement was a bit cavalier, but like you say, whenever I’m using free software, I assume that my rights are basically nil.


Milo December 19, 2012 at 8:45 am

Me too Abby. My photos are public, but I still wanted to be sure that they couldn’t use them in adverts without my permission. I think this has inevitably eroded trust but I’m going to stay with Instagram for now (whilst staying vigilant about any other changes to their policies).

I don’t think Flickr and other services offer a comparable experience and I wrote a post yesterday on the four reasons I think Instagram is special compared to other photo services: immediacy, beauty, community and continuity.

The most important victory for me following the outcry was the removal of the most contentious wording:

“The language we proposed also raised question about whether your photos can be part of an advertisement. We do not have plans for anything like this and because of that we’re going to remove the language that raised the question.”

Another article you might like dissects the tone of the ‘clarification’:


abby December 19, 2012 at 8:56 am

Thanks for sharing this article, Milo — stellar dissection, indeed. I agree with the writer (and with you) — it’s not actually about the tone of InstaGram’s announcement (which was quite neutral), it’s about the content. If they don’t intend to follow through on the new terms of the first announcement, then it DOES need a retraction, not a clarification.

Well, guess we’re both staying put for now! Like you, I’ll continue to watch.


Laura Simms December 19, 2012 at 9:05 am

This is the first thoughtful, non-reactionary post I’ve seen to the updated TOS, so thanks for that. You’re right that these are businesses trying to make a buck. Though I think they’re learning that honoring their users’ values and their profitability are linked.


abby December 19, 2012 at 9:23 am

I think they’re learning that honoring their users’ values and their profitability are linked.

Oh my goodness — fabulous point, Laura! Love the way you said that. As it should be in all businesses, right? (This is my idealism talking.)

I tend to not be very reactionary in general — must be my looooooow Audacity value. ;)


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