Instagram's Privacy Policy: 10 Reasons Users Must Remain Vigilant

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2012-12-19

Instagram's Privacy Policy: 10 Reasons Users Must Remain Vigilant

Instagram is in some hot water over changes the company recently announced to its Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. Although the photo-sharing company, which was acquired by Facebook for approximately $1 billion, says that its users own their own images, the terms left it open for the service to sell photos.

As one might expect, that discovery was met with fierce criticism from those who didn’t like the idea of any of their photos being sold for Instagram’s gain.

For its part, Instagram has argued that the idea that it would sell photos is nonsense. The company said that it was trying to say that it would use a person’s profile, which is attached to a photo, for use in advertisements. A brand that would want to advertise would show a photo of a person on their page, displaying to that person’s friends that they’re following a particular page.

In the coming days, Instagram plans to update its terms to ensure they more accurately reflect the company’s alleged intentions. However, it’s not immediately clear that the initial belief that it wanted to sell photos is totally outlandish. In fact, it appears that there is more here for users to be worried about than Instagram would have them believe.

Read on to find out why users should pay close attention to Instagram’s privacy policy and terms of service.

1. Terms and privacy policies are changing all the time

Instagram’s kerfuffle underscores a broader issue across the technology industry: privacy policies and terms of service are changing all the time. In far too many cases, the changes negatively impact users with few users actually paying attention to how the changes will affect them. Google changed its privacy policy earlier this year to combine all user information. Like Instagram, the search giant said that the changes help users. However, whether either company is actually helping their users is up for debate.

2. Users are viewed as cash cows

Instagram made one thing clear with its changes: its users are cash cows. The company, which focused mainly on growth since its founding, is now trying to monetize its operation. In its view, the only way to do that is to capitalize on its users and their personal information. It’s rather unfortunate.

3. Facebook owns the company

Let’s not forget that Facebook now owns Instagram: Facebook. The social networking giant bought Instagram earlier this year for $1 billion and now wants to prove to shareholders that it made the right decision. The only way to do that is to deliver higher revenue. And unfortunately, the only way to do that is to leverage its user base. That Facebook is behind all of that can’t be overlooked.

4. It’s hugely popular

Instagram is a massively popular photo-sharing app. At last count, the service had 80 million users. That so many people are affected by this makes the changes matter quite a bit. This is by no means a small company harming a few folks.

Instagram's Privacy Policy: 10 Reasons Users Must Remain Vigilant

5. Any photo can potentially be sold

Whether Instagram wants to admit it or not, the company’s terms of service clearly state that it wants to use photos in a person’s profile for financial gain. Although Instagram might not physically own the photos, just the fact that it asserts that it has a license to sell them for financial gain is troublesome, considering a large number of the site’s images were created by professionals who want to control the copyrights for the images they created and market them for their own gain.

6. Another revenue method will crop up

Even if Instagram dramatically changes its terms, the company will come up with some other way to make money of the content of its site. When it does so, there’s an exceedingly strong chance that the average user will get hurt. Unfortunately, the social world is rife with these kinds of issues, as companies that grow rapidly try to find a way to monetize their services.

7. Precedents are very, very bad things

Make no mistake: there are several photo-sharing apps out there that are watching what Instagram is doing. If the company can find a way to skate by, there’s a good chance that all of those companies follow its strategy. Instagram could very well become the benchmark by which all other privacy policies and terms are based.

8. This could take Instagram down

National Geographic, one of Instagram’s biggest supporters, has already said that it will not use the service until the company works out the privacy and use issues to its satisfaction. Many celebrities and other opinion-drivers are saying the same. It’s possible that if Instagram can’t put out the flames soon, it will compromise its business.

9. Instagram’s not backing off…that much

In a blog post reacting to the outcry, Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom made clear that his company doesn’t own a person’s photos. However, he didn’t back off his company’s desire to raise cash and “create meaningful ways to help you discover new and interesting accounts and content while building a self-sustaining business at the same time.” In other words, while some things might change in the next revision, Instagram isn’t fully going back to the way things were.

10. The sale goes beyond photos

Anyone that believes this is solely about photos is mistaken. Instagram wants to be able to take every last bit of a person’s profile—their identity, their actions, and their photos—and use those for its advertising efforts. Photos are just the tip of the iceberg. It’s about time everyone realizes that.

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