Instagram says it doesn’t intend to ‘sell’ user photos, plans to clarify terms of use

Instagram today responded to concerns raised by users and the press after it proposed updates to its terms of use and privacy policy on Monday. In a blog post from CEO Kevin Systrom, the company clarified it does not intend to sell users’ photos and it plans to update its new terms of service accordingly.

It was widely misreported that Instagram, now under ownership of Facebook, would “sell” users’ photos to advertisers. These stories went viral and users threatened to quit the service. The language in question was:

“Some or all of the Service may be supported by advertising revenue. 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.”

CNET went as far as to suggest, “That means that a hotel in Hawaii, for instance, could write a check to Facebook to license photos taken at its resort and use them on its Web site, in TV ads, in glossy brochures, and so on — without paying any money to the Instagram user who took the photo.”

That is false. Systrom clarified in his post today:

“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.”

As we wrote about on Monday, what Instagram has in mind is more like Facebook Sponsored Stories. For example, an advertiser might pay to promote stories about users following their brand or liking one of their photos. The legal disclaimer is necessary because Facebook was recently hit with a class action suit where users claimed they deserved compensation for having their name and photos included in ads this way. Facebook agreed to a $20-million settlement, which includes a cash payment of up to $10 to Facebook users who objected to this use of their information. It continues to use people’s names and images along with Sponsored Stories.

We suggested there might also be a way in the future for advertisers to pay Instagram to highlight user-generated photos to a user’s friends. Systrom explained today:

“We do not have plans for anything like this and because of that we’re going to remove the language that raised the question.”

The company will update its terms of service — which are set to go into effect on Jan. 16 — to address these points and make it clear that users’ privacy settings persist. Instagram only shares photos with the people users have approved to follow them. Its new terms of use and privacy policy do not change this.

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