TOS It

Will Instagram’s New Advertising Policy Yield an Exodus of Celebs?

Instagram's new terms of service raise thorny privacy questions for kids and celebs alike.
Kim K, queen of the selfies. (Photo: Instagram)

Kim K, queen of the selfies. (Photo: Instagram)

Much ink has already been spilled over Instagram’s new updated terms of service, which specifically states that it can use your photos for “advertising and promotions.” Twitter users erupted in outrage over the news, with many techies claiming they would soon be quitting the service. Wired wrote a helpful how-to on how to download your photos and delete your account. Photographer Clayton Cubitt, who is not at all hyperbolic, called it Instagram’s suicide note. Gizmodo called everyone whiny babies and offered a counterpoint: “shut up.”

While the hype may be somewhat overblown (we highly doubt the masses quit Instagram over this), the ambiguity introduced by the new terms has understandably led to much confusion. If all you take is brunch photos or pics of the sunset and don’t mind those showing up in ads, bully for you. But what happens if Instagram decides to use photos of your young siblings or children to advertise a product? As Anil Dash put it, “It’s very likely they’d use a photo of my son to sell stuff to my parents, without me knowing.”

That concern also extends to users as young as 13, who are also subject to Instagram’s new policy. As Bloomberg points out, taking photos of underage users for ads raises some thorny privacy and safety concerns.

And what about the BaddieBey’s, Riri’s and ChampagnePapi’s of the world? Celebrities have also become prolific users of the seemingly-intimate photo sharing service. Instagram’s new TOS says the service has the right to share your photos, username, likeness and metadata with third party advertiser. This means they could feasibly take a photo of Kim Kardashian’s cat Mercy (RIP) and use it in an advertisement for the SPCA. As it did with professional photographers, this invokes questions about how much control you have over own content and likeness.

Some celebs are already worried about this. On his Google Plus page (lol), Star Trek actor Wil Wheaton writes:

Here’s what I’m wondering: if Kaley Cuoco uses Instagram to share a photo of her and Melissa Rauch doing something silly, does that mean that Instagram can take that photo and use it to advertise for something silly without compensating them for what becomes a use of their likeness for commercial purposes? I can see that being a pretty serious shitstorm if it happens.

It’s unlikely that Instagram will alter its policy to protect celebrities. For all its celebrity-courting, famous people on Twitter use the service pretty much like the rest of us. But it also seems unlikely that publicists will be okay with the service making money off of their clients’ likenesses. Either way, it would behoove Instagram to clarify just how it intends to use our data before Snapchat starts looking like the only safe place to share.

(h/t to HeyVeronica, who got us thinking about this whole thing.)

Update:

Turns out celebrities really are angry about this whole Instagram TOS update. P!nk tweeted that she’ll be quitting, as will Saved By the Bell star Tiffani Amber Thiessen, whom we did not even know had an Instagram

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