Instagram Seeks to Placate Irked Users with Revised Terms of Service

Instagram, after back-pedaling and softening language that scared off users, will implement a new Privacy Policy and Terms of Service Jan. 19. 

Instagram emailed users Jan. 17 to say that it has updated the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy for its popular photo-sharing application and that both will go into effect Jan. 19.

The Instagram Team signed off by stating, "These updates don't change the fact that you own your photos that you post on Instagram, and our privacy controls work just as they did before."

The note was a rather necessary one, as on Dec. 17, 2012 it announced changes to its Terms of Service that caused thousands of users to flee from the free app and initiated at least one lawsuit.

Those terms stated that Instagram might use subscribers' photos in advertising without the users' consent or any compensation.

"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," read the terms.

It added that underage users were not exempt (Instagram says that users must be 13 years or older), ads may not be labeled as ads and the only way to opt out was to delete one's account. (The New York Times posted a full rundown.)

Users loudly objected, and Instagram quickly insisted that it had all been a misunderstanding.

"It became clear that we failed to fulfill what I consider one of our most important responsibilities—to communicate our intentions clearly," co-founder Kevin Systrom blogged three days later.

He added, in so many words, that eventually Instagram will need to make money off users, but it won't bother anyone with the details until it figures out how to.

"Going forward," Systrom said more precisely, "rather than obtain permission from you to introduce possible advertising products we have not yet developed, we are going to take the time to complete our plans, and then come back to our users and explain how we would like for our advertising business to work."

In its email, as in a blog post about the changes, the Instagram team pointed out that the changes were necessary since so much has happened since the original policies were written. The site has grown by millions of users. And, of course, it was purchased by Facebook, which possibly more than any other company has confused users about what is or isn't private.

Instagram, in its blog post, also highlighted what it called "key updates" to the policies. These included that "nothing has changed about your photos' ownership or who can see them," that Instagram's updated privacy policy helps it to fight spam and function "more easily as part of Facebook by being able to share info between two groups," that it helps the company to protect users prevent abuse.

"We know these documents are a little dry, but they're very important," the team added. "Please take a moment to read through them so you keep feeling comfortable sharing your beautiful photos on Instagram."

The Terms of Use can be viewed on the Instagram site, under About, as can the new Privacy Policy.