TOS It

Instagram Responds to Terms of Service Outrage: Shhh, Everything Is Going to Be Okay

Calm down and step away from the delete button.
Like a spy drone, Kevin Systrom is listening. (Photo: Scaleogy)

Like a spy drone, Kevin Systrom is listening. (Photo: Scaleogy)

Instagram’s updated terms of service unleashed a maelstrom of confusion from users who believed that the new terms would allow Instagram to sell their photos without compensation. Celebrities even began quitting over it! Unwilling to lose their influential users, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom took to the company blog today to clarify just what exactly the new TOS says.

However, his calming words didn’t come with a new Terms of Service, so it’s difficult to tell what exactly that means for users. With that in mind, let’s parse what we do know:

Instagram is not planning to sell your photos. “It is not our intention to sell your photos,” reads the post. Instead, Instagram clarifies that they’d like to provide innovative advertising that adds to the Instagram experience. The company gives the example of a business paying for a promoted account, and being able to showcase which of your friends follows that account, similar to Twitter’s “Who to Follow” feature. Of course, “It is not our intention to sell your photos” is more about what Instagram hopes will happen. Roads to monetization are often paved with good intentions.

Your photos will not be appearing in an advertisement any time soon. “The language we proposed also raised question about whether your photos can be part of an advertisement,” reads the 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.” Instead, the company says it wants to avoid serving ugly ol’ banner ads. However, it does not say specifically which clauses it will be removing from the TOS to clarify this advertising confusion.

You still own your photos. “Instagram users own their content and Instagram does not claim any ownership rights over your photos,” the post says outright. Mr. Systrom also gave nod to the professional photographers, like suidical Clayton Cubitt and Mark Zuckerberg’s wedding photographer, who worried about ownership of their images. “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.

In addition to providing some clarification, Mr. Systrom tried to reframe the backlash as a “We TOTALLY meant for this to happen!” moment, writing that the reason the company decided to release the changes 30 days from now and not immediately is so that they could process user feedback and concerns. Sure thing, Kev.

Despite this clarification, some selfie queen power users still seem to be confused.

Follow Jessica Roy on Twitter or via RSS. jroy@observer.com