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Making sense of the Instagram controversy

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December 18, 2012

Instagram's new terms caught many off-guard

Instagram's new terms caught many off-guard

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Nothing spreads on the internet like outrage. For evidence, look no further than today's Instagram kerfuffle. The Facebook-owned company announced new terms of service, which allow it to capitalize on you and your photos. Unsurprising as the terms are, the backlash caught Instagram's attention, and the company responded. Is there still cause for concern?

Coming to terms

What's so outrageous about these terms? For starters, they let Instagram use your photos in advertisements (familiar territory for any Facebook user). These advertisements don't have to be labelled as advertisements. The terms also allow Instagram to share your images' metadata (like location) and sell it to advertisers.

There are two warring factions here. On one side, Instagram is a business, and it wants to capitalize on the app's millions of users. The best way to do that is to sell their data to advertisers. On the other side, Instagram's users are appalled that their pictures and data are being exploited.

You're the product

If an app is free, then there's a good chance you're the product (originals: Shutterstock ...

The user backlash is understandable, but also a bit naive. Nobody wants their lasagna photos splashed on an Olive Garden ad (at least not without compensation). Few would likely want their photos' locations sold to advertisers. If a government sprang these policies on their citizens, there would be cause for uproar.

But Facebook isn't a democratic society, and it didn't pay nearly $1 billion for a non-profit organization. Instagram's app is free, and using its social network is free. It has to profit somehow. That somehow is you.

Problem solved?

Instagram's new terms aren't surprising, but this hoo-ha shows that social media memes can still force businesses to rethink strategy. Kevin Systrom, co-founder of Instagram, wrote a blog post, backpedalling on the most eyebrow-raising parts of the terms.

“To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos," Systrom blogged. "We are working on updated language in the terms to make sure this is clear.” As for photos in advertisements, he added, "We do not have plans for anything like this and because of that we’re going to remove the language that raised the question."

We'll have to wait on those revised terms, but you can chalk this one up as a battle won by the internet. As for the greater war, you're going to lose. Unless Instagram converts to a paid or subscription model (not likely), you'll continue to be the product. Facebook and Instagram will find a way to make money off of your data.

Alternatives

Hipstamatic is a popular alternative with similar features

If you're still skeptical about Instagram's long-term plans, there are a few alternatives.

Twitter recently incorporated Instagram-like filters into its network. All of its mobile apps have been updated with the new capabilities. Twitter is a free product too, though, so it's unclear whether your data will ultimately be in more trustworthy hands there.

Hipstamatic has much of the same functionality as Instagram. The developers are profiting from the app itself (including in-app purchases for new filters), so you're more likely to remain the customer and avoid becoming the product.

Though it doesn't have its own social network, Snapseed is an award-winning camera app for iPhone and Android. Its interface and adjustment tools (including many filters) are top-notch. There are, however, two red flags. It's free, and it's now owned by Google – whose business model is also based on selling your data to advertisers.

Backing up and deleting your account

If you're fed up, you can delete your account

If you want to sever all ties with Instagram, you can use a service called Instaport. After granting it permission to access your account, you can download your pictures or export them to several other services.

When you're ready to nuke your account, head to Instagram's account removal page, sign in, and watch it go bye-bye.

Much ado about nothing?

This is ultimately your call. If you enjoy Instagram, you may want to wait to see those revised terms. If you were already fed up, then perhaps this is the final nail in the coffin.

Either way, remember that businesses rarely give anything away. There's nothing wrong with a free app or service, but they're going to make their money somehow. In Instagram's (and Facebook's, and Google's …) case, it all starts with you and your data.

Sources: Instagram, New York Times, AllThingsD, and CNET

About the Author
Will Shanklin Will Shanklin is Gizmag's Mobile Tech Editor, and has been part of the team since 2012. Will has a Master's degree from U.C. Irvine and a Bachelor's from West Virginia University. He currently lives in New Mexico with his wife, Jessica.
  All articles by Will Shanklin
5 Comments

Social media, What a load of crap! It's become the new 'screw you' tool of American law enforcement. Time to delete the purveyors of this crap and stop feeding your personal info to the Feds!

Gotcha
19th December, 2012 @ 08:46 am PST

Instead of using a back door to access your information, why not just charge for the app? Well I suppose the answer is that they make far more selling your info than they would ever make selling apps! If a company cannot make money being transparent about their intentions they deserve to loose their customers!

Jerry Peavy
19th December, 2012 @ 12:46 pm PST

And what are the chances it actually deletes an account when requested. Just try to kill a facebook account.

Sort of sounds like they used the same expurt lawyer that google used to do their rather similar user media agreement.

Wragie
19th December, 2012 @ 01:19 pm PST

Social Media.? What a load of time-wasting, self-indulgent crap. If the morons that use it had even a tiny idea of how all their personal information is harvested, and that of their friends, and all their connections, and SOLD, they would be shocked. Every "like", every ad they go to and click on and that of every "friend" is revenue producing for FB. Same for IG - in the guise of doing you a "favor" they gather even more information, and in this case, want to use your images for themselves.

Besides filling FB's coffers with profits from selling your personal information, nearly ALL of your personal info ends up getting fed into their machine - you are giving away what is left of your privacy., and it WILL be exploited.

Time to grow up, people. You are being exploited, and none of us REALLY want to know what you did today.

ALSO - For more of the same, check out "IFA" that the equally money grubbing Apple added to the latest iPhone OS.

jjsmail
19th December, 2012 @ 01:51 pm PST

GM and other advertisers have figured out that conventional advertising on social media is a bust and bailed. So all that's left is what amounts to electronic Soylent Green. People, pull your head out and take a look at the rapidly depleting real world.

As social scientists who study social media a generation has gone from, "I have a feeling, I will post about it" to "I need a feeling, I must post to get it"

Any of you people ever read the short story, "The Machine Stops"? Maybe you should.

Lsaguy
19th December, 2012 @ 07:50 pm PST
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