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What Instagram Really Changed in Their Terms of Service

Here's a suggestion: Keep calm and Instagram on. Instagram's ToS aren't changing that much: they're mostly aligning to Facebook's by allowing Instagram to create ads that are as user-friendly as possible.


On December 17, Instagram announced an update in their Terms of Service that will be effective on January 16, 2013. Since the preview of this update went public, tech and even mainstream news outlets have seized the story and reported on it, stirring quite some drama. Some went further, giving tutorials on removing one’s account while backing up the photos, or, for brands, how to do Instagram marketing without Instagram. Their main claim was that the changes in ToS were doing Instagram users wrong, slowly but surely transforming them into a product that they could milk for good money.
These articles set the twitter sphere ablaze, with some going absolutely crazy, chirping out alarmist calls left and right.

What's going on is that Instagram made modifications to implicitly state that:

  1. they can sell your photos to create ads
  2. they can use your photos in the Instagram feed to create stories

So the reports aren't lies, and they state the reality of Instagram's evolution: driving away from a completely free service that wasn't making any money, to a more classical business model that could bring cash in for Instagram and its Mothership, Facebook.
No lies, all right, but no reason to freak out either.

Take a hard look at the current Instagram ToS, the ones that everyone gladly said yes to without flinching. Yes, if you’re on Instagram, that means you accepted them too. Under "Proprietary Rights in Content on Instagram", this paragraph is particularly relevant:

"By displaying or publishing ("posting") any Content on or through the Instagram Services, you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, worldwide, limited license to use, modify, delete from, add to, publicly perform, publicly display, reproduce and translate such Content, including without limitation distributing part or all of the Site in any media formats through any media channels, except Content not shared publicly ("private") will not be distributed outside the Instagram Services."

Here's the kicker: Instagram was always allowed to do whatever it wanted with your photos, comments and general activity. By the way, this paragraph will remain pretty much untouched, with a few details defining what "private" profiles meant.

The real addition is the possibility for Instagram to use your content to create ads. In other words, the possibility for Instagram to do the same as Facebook's Sponsored Stories. What's more: The paragraph on this subject is basically taken straight out of Facebook's ToS. So, really, if you're on Facebook, you've embraced these terms already. And let's take this argument further: If you have connected Facebook with your Instagram account and routinely share your new Instagram photos on Facebook, then you're already accepting with Facebook what Instagram is asking you to accept with the new ToS.

Sure, Instagram can freely dispose of your photos and make money off them which will also benefit other brands. Sure, it’s a move away from the beautiful, free and simple application that we grew so fond of. But it is a move in the direction of reality, too, a rather necessary one, and one that won’t jeopardize your integrity any more than what Facebook already did. The people driving Instagram have grown the service to 100 million users, and have most certainly done quite some thinking before the release of this ToS preview. With Facebook behind them, they are in less in a hurry to make a quick buck, and rather aiming towards building sustainable revenue streams to reach profitability. Would they willfully shoot themselves in the foot and make everyone leave their app just to squeeze a little money out in the process? Likely, hopefully, not.
After all, Instagram is still the perfect application to publicly share beautiful photos and true experiences with your friends. Aren't you glad they're finding ways to keep the lights on?

Here's an Instagram photo of @BarackObama holding a baby to cheer you up:


Join The Conversation

  • ThibautDavoult's picture
    Dec 28 Posted 4 years ago ThibautDavoult

    In my opinion you looked at it the right way: When sharing content online, particularly on networks were profiles are primarily public like it's the case with Instagram, it's always better to assume that people are legally able to dispose of your photos.

    Not a lot of people think that way, but I think it's the right state of mind to adopt. Just look at the recent story where Randi Zuckerberg posted a photo on Facebook (appaarently without locking it as being private) and it was then reposted on Twitter. That kind of stuff happens, even to the Zuckerbergs!

  • ThibautDavoult's picture
    Dec 26 Posted 4 years ago ThibautDavoult

    You make a good point about the trial balloon but I want to give more credit to Instagram and I believe this is not what their intention was there. The simple fact that they are changing their ToS to align with what the users requested is enough proof of it. Now we have to wait and see what the final version will look like, but they'll likely be better worded, in a way that doesn't anger customers and, more importantly, doesn't instill doubt in them anymore.

  • Stephanie Winans's picture
    Dec 20 Posted 4 years ago Stephanie Winans

    Good point about the trial balloon. I'm sure they got the message that it wasn't well received.

  • Dec 19 Posted 4 years ago abowersock

    He said, "To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos." They've got a sweet deal where they reserve the right to sell any photograph, (though it's not their intention right now), and deny the label of being the owner.

    Companies do this thing called sending up a trial balloon. They sent this out and gauged our reaction. It wasn't pretty so they released a press release... but no other changes in ToS.

  • ThibautDavoult's picture
    Dec 18 Posted 4 years ago ThibautDavoult

    You're welcome, glad you enjoyed it. By the way, it's been confirmed by Instagram CEO on their official blog: They're not going to sell ads, not going to change dramatically, just trying things out to monetize in the least intrusive ways possible, just as any good business would.

  • Stephanie Winans's picture
    Dec 18 Posted 4 years ago Stephanie Winans

    Great writeup on the changes. Thanks for your interpretation.

  • Dec 18 Posted 4 years ago Leigh Pinkston

    Very interesting. Thanks for posting this. I assumed that the images were already "theres" but I'm not sure that I actually read the ToS that closely.

    Leigh Pinkston

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