Instagram nixes parts of new policy after user outrage

Facebook is the focus of a new protest after altering the terms of service on its photo-sharing site Instagram, allowing the social networking service to sell photos people have uploaded or related information.

No opt-out clause on social networking site's terms of service

Facebook purchased Instagram in April, when the site was only two years old and boasted 33 million users. (Instagram)

Facebook will alter some of the wording in its new terms of service on its photo-sharing site Instagram, after users interpreted the new policy as giving the social networking service the power to sell their uploaded photos or related information.

Uproar emerged over a clause in the new agreement — revealed Monday and set to take effect in mid-January.

"We may share your information as well as information from tools like cookies, log files, and device identifiers and location data with organizations that help us provide the service to you ... [and] third-party advertising partners," states the clause.

"To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business may pay us to display your user name, likeness, photos, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you."

Many users threatened to leave the photosharing service, interpreting that their photos could be used in advertising — with no reference to the person who owns the picture and with all payments going to Instagram.

Facebook attempted to "eliminate the confusion" in a statement issued Tuesday.

"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," wrote Kevin Systrom, one of Instagram's co-founders. "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."

Instagram will also "remove the language that raised the question" about whether a user's photo could be used as part of an advertisement.

The company also said:

  • Instagram users have ownership rights over their photos.
  • No changes have been made to the site's privacy settings.

Outrage followed new policy announcement

The backlash after Monday's announcement was plentiful and harsh.

New York-based photographer Clayton Cubbit wrote on his account about the policy amendment, calling it "Instagram's suicide note."

Another user tweeted: "Moving photos to Flickr for the time being #quitstagram"

In his market watch blog, The Big Picture, Barry Ritholtz titled his posting "Facebook Destroys Instagram" and criticized the company for "abuse of privacy and data mining about its users."

'The problem with Instagram and indeed with its parent company, Facebook, is that it is working by a form of deception: users are sucked in.'—David Murakami Wood, sociology professor

Queen’s University sociology professor David Murakami Wood calls the move dishonest.

"The problem with Instagram and indeed with its parent company, Facebook, is that it is working by a form of deception: users are sucked in and upload all kinds of content, and then the company changes the rules and says – ‘we will own all of this (unless you tell us otherwise by a certain date),’" said Murakami Wood in a statement. Wood is a professor working at the university's Surveillance Studies Centre.

"It's particularly deceptive because they present it as minor terms of service changes. What we need is transparency on the part of these companies so users can make informed decisions. Informed consent is a basic principle of data protection and privacy provision."

In Instagram's statement, Systrom wrote that the two policies "help communicate as clearly as possible" the rules governing the site's community.

Other online services allow photo sharing

Facebook bought Instagram in April when the photo-sharing service was about two years old. It claimed 33 million users at the time.

Recently, Carolyn Everson, Facebook's vice-president of global marketing solutions, said: "Eventually we'll figure out a way to monetize Instagram."

The new terms of service have prompted a boom in a number of other online services, such as or, that offer to let people download their existing photos on Instagram into another archive.

Other photo-sharing sites, such as Flickr, are also getting a slight bump in users.

Some users are not as upset. User Neil McCormick tweeted: "Just flipped through some of my @instagram pics. I will be honest if you can sell those, more power to ya. I would love to hear your pitch."