One of the bigger tech stories going on right now is the whirlwind Instagram created with its new polices that claim the right to sell your photos without payment or notification.

Or at least that’s what thousands of angry people thought. However, it looks like there was a little misinterpretation.

The Verge pointed this out earlier today, and Instagram CEO and co-founder Kevin Systrom scribed a blog post titled “Thank you, and we’re listening” a few hours ago to clear the air about the language in the new policy and to say that his company will update its terms of service in more easy-to-understand lingo.

Many assumed that the new language in Instagram’s policies meant that Instagram would start selling user-generated photos to companies for advertisements without compensation. For example, a hotel in Seattle might purchase your Instagram photo of the Seattle skyline for an ad.

But Systrom ensures that Facebook-owned Instagram is not “selling” your photos to anyone anytime soon. He does note that brands and companies may be able to pay to have their photos promoted in your feed, and you’d be able to see which of your friends follow a company or brand. The model is similar to the sponsored posts on Facebook.

“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,” he writes.

Here’s the statement in full. Note the second paragraph in the “Advertising on Instagram” portion — Systrom offers insight to how Instagram might make money from advertising on the site:

Thank you, and we’re listening
Yesterday we introduced a new version of our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service that will take effect in thirty days. These two documents help communicate as clearly as possible our relationship with the users of Instagram so you understand how your data will be used, and the rules that govern the thriving and active Instagram community. Since making these changes, we’ve heard loud and clear that many users are confused and upset about what the changes mean.I’m writing this today to let you know we’re listening and to commit to you that we will be doing more to answer your questions, fix any mistakes, and eliminate the confusion. As we review your feedback and stories in the press, we’re going to modify specific parts of the terms to make it more clear what will happen with your photos.
Legal documents are easy to misinterpret. So I’d like to address specific concerns we’ve heard from everyone:

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.

To provide context, we envision a future where both users and brands alike may promote their photos & accounts to increase engagement and to build a more meaningful following. Let’s say a business wanted to promote their account to gain more followers and Instagram was able to feature them in some way. In order to help make a more relevant and useful promotion, it would be helpful to see which of the people you follow also follow this business. In this way, some of the data you produce — like the actions you take (eg, following the account) and your profile photo — might show up if you are following this business.

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. Our main goal is to avoid things like advertising banners you see in other apps that would hurt the Instagram user experience. Instead, we want to create meaningful ways to help you discover new and interesting accounts and content while building a self-sustaining business at the same time.

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.

I always want you to feel comfortable sharing your photos on Instagram and we will always work hard to foster and respect our community and go out of our way to support its rights.

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.

I am grateful to everyone for their feedback and that we have a community that cares so much. We need to be clear about changes we make — this is our responsibility to you. One of the main reasons these documents don’t take effect immediately, but instead 30 days from now, is that we wanted to make sure you had an opportunity to raise any concerns. You’ve done that and are doing that, and that will help us provide the clarity you deserve. Thank you for your help in making sure that Instagram continues to thrive and be a community that we’re all proud of. Please stay tuned for updates coming soon.


Kevin Systrom co-founder, Instagram

There you go. Instagram isn’t out to steal your soul and rake in millions off your artwork, although people still believe that. Here’s some advice from MG Siegler over at Tech Crunch:

My suggestion for the next time a situation like this happens — probably in a week or so: shut up, take a deep breath, and think. Use common sense. Just because a service is big and popular, it doesn’t mean they’re out to get you. In fact, it’s probably safe to assume that none of them are. Because if they were, they’d be done. No one is forcing anyone to use them. And torturing puppies isn’t a proven business model.

Previously on GeekWire: Instagram, Allrecipies break records on Thanksgiving

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  • FrankCatalano

    However, as with any commercial service, Instagram can change its terms of service at any time (with notice). While it now claims it has no plans to “sell” (that is, license) user photos without user knowledge or consent, and makes no ownership claims to the photos, the poorly worded terms of service update actually had knowledgeable copyright and contract people interpreting it both ways.

    At the very least, Instagram needs to better explain terms of service changes and make the actual terms of service less opaque. Some other companies actually have figured out how to do this.

    • William Carleton

      Taylor, Frank:

      Two totally new sentences in the January 2013 Instagram ToS are models of clarity:

      >>>”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.”

      >>>”You acknowledge that we may not always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such.”

      The NYTimes Bits Blog was right to call the company out and readers, by and large, read the terms perceptively, The only room for confusion might have been over whether a given user could opt out of such “sharing” with advertisers by making all her photos private, using the privacy settings.

      Kevin Systrom’s blog post is typical corporate PR dissembling. A fairer reading of his post is that, while Instagram had no definite plans per se to sell off photos, it wanted maximum room to be able to experiment. The FTC’s consent order with Facebook is relevant in this, too (it covers Facebook subsidiaries on key points), so the company would likely want to cover more in its disclosures than it might presently mean to implement.

  • Forrest Corbett

    There is thinly veiled attempt to spin this. The issue is the ownership rights. Just like he says, they’re not changing anything about that. But the new terms included a full license to the images – everything but ownership. They can strip out the portions about advertising and everything else, there’s no need for them to be that specific when they say:

    “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”

    What they did remove there is the “sublicense” clause and added “limited license”.

    The whole comment about ownership is an extremely poor attempt to draw the attention away from the issue. I’ve read a few articles on this and a lot of comments. None of them asserted that Instagram was claiming ownership.

  • Guest

    Phew! I was panicking for a second. I’ll instruct my followers to reinstall Instagram.

  • Peter H

    Still hard not to view this as Instagram’s “Qwikster Moment”.

    Their relationship with their users is permanently changed. This move clearly has nothing to do with delighting their users. The company has changed.

    • Guest

      Instagram currently has no revenue model. They’re trying to create one. Users would prefer that the company not monetise them, but users are unwilling to pay for the services Instagram provides so the users must be monetised.

      Netflix had a revenue model. Netflix customers intend to pay for a service, not to be monetised.

      In conclusion, Instagram should continue to keep its community running but without monetising its users. The added revenue from Facebook should be enough to keep Instagram going.

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