Instagram’s Controversial New Privacy Policy: What It Means For You, Them, And How to Get Around It

Spencer Cain

InstagramAs we browsed our Twitter feeds today, one topic of discussion stood out, and it involves popular photo-sharing app Instagram. In case you aren’t familiar with Instagram (which frankly seems somewhat impossible these days), it’s the style set’s most beloved iPhone app that has developed into an incredibly popular social network, rivaling even Twitter.

Since October 2010, Instagram has provided its users with the ability to share their pictures with filters—thus, pictures of you showing off your new Chanel bag in the mirror look a lot more artistic. Instagram made worldwide headlines back in April, when Facebook purchased it for a whopping $1 billion in cash and stock. After the deal closed in September, it has remained in the news—for less than positive reasons. Its new privacy policy has users furious and ready to jump ship after falling in love with the app. Below, we’ve highlighted what exactly you need to know about the situation.
What Instagram is Saying: We all know it’s difficult to siphon through legal and technical language, so here’s the situation in a nutshell. Basically, as of January 16, 2013, Instagram will now be able to profit off of your photos, username, or other data you provide on the site. You may be wondering, “How they hell can they do that?!” Well, their new terms of use state, “Some or all of the Service may be supported by advertising revenue. To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, 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.” Basically, anything you put up on the site is no longer your own—and Instagram doesn’t even have to identify what on the site is sponsored content.
Why People are Upset: Ever since Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram, there has obviously been a great deal of attention being paid to monetizing the app. Like any indie gem that makes it big, it’s losing a part of what made it so desirable in the first place. Now that it’s in the billion dollar big leagues, it has to turn a profit, and users feel that it’s doing so by exploiting them. Since users’ photos will potentially be “sold,” Instagram is essentially becoming a commercial stock photo library. The problem lies in the fact that those who contribute to commercial photo libraries are compensated, while Instagram users will obviously not be. Simply clicking on the “Instagram” trending topic on Twitter reveals that the majority of people are unanimously against this, with many promising to delete their accounts. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Anderson Cooper, and Andy Cohen are all abandoning the app.
How Instagram is Responding: Instagram has been somewhat vague in their explanations, but released a statement that reads, “As we’ve said in the past, we are continuing to evaluate when, how, and in what form advertising inside Instagram plays a role in creating value for users and brands alike.” When asked what purpose besides generating profit their new privacy policy will serve, Instagram noted, “This means we can do things like fight spam more effectively, detect system and reliability problems more quickly, and build better features for everyone by understanding how Instagram is used.”
How You Can Avoid the Changes: Unless there’s a serious reconfiguration of the policy, there’s no choice but to stop using the service if you’re uncomfortable with it. Luckily, there are numerous other photo sharing services with similar characteristics. In fact, Twitter has just introduced filters in photos, which is handy as it has stopped displaying Instagram photos in tweets (another issue social media users are still reeling from). Other apps like Snapseed (which was just acquired by Google) and Hipster are making a splash, while alternatives like Hipstamatic (which was actually popular prior to Instagram taking over) are also available.
UPDATE: Instagram just issued a statement clarifying some of the language used. Many are still confused. What do you think about the policy change?