Instagram backtracks after user privacy revolt

Posted at 10:15 AM, Dec 18, 2012
and last updated 2012-12-18 19:08:50-05
By Doug Gross


(CNN) — Faced with a loud and angry backlash from some of its most active users, photo-sharing app Instagram backtracked Tuesday on new language that appeared to give the company ownership of their images.

“The language we proposed … raised question about whether your photos can be part of an advertisement,” Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom wrote in a blog post. “We do not have plans for anything like this and because of that we’re going to remove the language that raised the question.”

An update Monday to Instagram’s terms of service had stated that data collected through the app can be shared with Facebook. That’s not a surprising move, considering Facebook paid an estimated $1 billion for the photo-sharing service earlier this year.

But the language that upset some of the app’s more than 100 million users said that “a business or other entity may pay” Instagram for the use of user images and may do so “without any compensation to you.”

That didn’t sit well with some — including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s wedding photographer.

“Pro or not if a company wants to use your photos for advertising they need to TELL you and PAY you,” Noah Kalina wrote Tuesday on Twitter.

Kalina stopped short of vowing to quit Instagram, saying he hopes that language will be deleted. The proposed changes are set to go into effect January 16.

Others weren’t being so patient.

A popular Twitter feed associated with the hacker collective Anonymous was urging its more than 780,000 followers to dump the app Tuesday morning.

“Only way to opt out of @instagram selling your photos is deleting your account,” wrote the person who runs the account. “Sounds good to us. #BoycottInstagram”.

The feed posted image after image of screen shots from followers who had done just that. It claimed it was receiving thousands of such images — too many to count.

Systrom wrote that the intent of the new 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,” he wrote. “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.”

The new terms appeared to significantly broaden what Instagram can do with users’ content. Currently they say, “Instagram may place such advertising and promotions on the Instagram Services or on, about, or in conjunction with your Content.”

Systrom’s post came after a morning when social media and tech blogs lit up with complaints. #BoycottInstagram and #Instagram were top trending topics on Twitter for much of the day.

Wil Wheaton, who parlayed a child-actor stint on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” into becoming one of the Web’s earliest star bloggers, wrote that he doesn’t use Instagram. But he questions whether other “celebrities to some degree” could be exploited if they do.

“If someone Instagrams a photo of Seth Green walking through an Urban Outfitters, does that mean Urban Outfitters can take that image and use it to create an implied endorsement by Seth?” Wheaton wrote. “What if the picture is taken by a complete stranger? Who gets final say in how the image is used? The subject, the photographer, or Instagram?”

Even CNN’s own Anderson Cooper was expressing some concern on the site.

“#Instagram will now be able to use anyone’s photos in ads? Without consent?” he wrote on Twitter. “Come on! Is there another photo app people recommend?”

Cooper wasn’t the only one considering his options.

“I have my fingers crossed that they, Instagram, will listen to the voice of the community and reverse the new terms of service, but I’m not holding my breath,” wrote photojournalist Richard Koci Hernandez, who has more than 163,000 Instagram followers. He shared his thoughts Tuesday on Instagram, where he was posting blank black squares instead of his usual artful black-and-white images.

“I don’t feel like debating the terms of service or being too nostalgic about the old days of Instagram, I feel that it’s much better just to take our work and more importantly friendship and conversation to another place that respects our rights and ownership as creators,” Hernandez added. “Let’s move the party to a new location.”

Bloggers also were spotlighting tools like Hipstamatic and Camera Awesome, as well as Twitter’s own new photo service that includes Instagram-like filters.

A year-and-a-half-old blog post from photo-sharing site Flickr was also making the rounds. In it, Yahoo, which owns Flickr, uses language, perhaps aimed at Facebook, that says “(w)e feel very strongly that sharing online shouldn’t mean giving up rights to your photos.”

Systrom said Instagram agrees.

“Instagram users own their content and Instagram does not claim any ownership rights over your photos,” he wrote. “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.”

It is, of course, too early to know how many people were fleeing Instagram on Tuesday. But anecdotal evidence suggested a movement was afoot.

Instaport, a tool that lets users export and and download their Instagram images, was reporting overtaxed servers Tuesday morning.

“Our servers are very busy right now, so it may show you some errors,” the company wrote to a user on its Twitter feed. “Please try again later or tomorrow.”

™ & © 2012 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.