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.
“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.”