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Instagram draws ire over new user rules

Irate customers blast the photo-sharing service's new terms of service, which appeared to give the company the right to turn users' images into ads.

December 19, 2012|By Jessica Guynn, Los Angeles Times
  • Instagram founder Kevin Systrom, seen above at a technology conference in France this month, tried to calm the uproar caused by the firm's new terms of service. “Instagram does not claim any ownership rights over your photos,” he wrote in a blog post Tuesday afternoon. “We respect that your photos are your photos. Period.”
Instagram founder Kevin Systrom, seen above at a technology conference… (Eric Piermont, AFP/Getty…)

SAN FRANCISCO — When it comes to policy changes, Instagram could have used a filter of its own.

Its usually devoted users threatened to delete their accounts en masse Tuesday if the popular photo-sharing app did not roll back new terms of service that appeared to give the company ownership of their images. Instagram users — about 100 million now — snap the photos on their smartphones, apply digital filters to enhance the photos and then instantly share them with friends.

"Dear @Instagram, why did you think we'd just be OK with your new terms? They are NOT COOL. Signed, The Entire Internet," Jason Pollock, a Los Angeles filmmaker and social media consultant, wrote on Twitter.

Instagram founder Kevin Systrom tried to calm the uproar and reassure users in a blog post Tuesday afternoon.

"Instagram does not claim any ownership rights over your photos," he wrote. "We respect that your photos are your photos. Period."

Instagram's new terms of service announced Monday included a clause stating that Instagram had the right to turn images into advertisements without any approval from or compensation for users starting Jan. 16. — part of Facebook's drive to make money from the service it bought this year for $715 million in cash and stock.

That angered amateur and professional photographers alike — even Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg's wedding photographer.

"Pro or not if a company wants to use your photos for advertising they need to TELL you and PAY you," Noah Kalina said on Twitter.

The effort to make money from Instagram users struck a nerve. According to the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, nearly half of Internet users post photos and videos online that they have created themselves.

Kurt Opsahl, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said Instagram quickly realized it had "overplayed its hand." But its mea culpa blog post still contains plenty of loopholes, he said.

"They say they don't have any plans to put your photos in an advertisement, but nevertheless that is the permission they were seeking," Opsahl said. "We will have to see what the language of the terms of service looks like after they revise it."

Jeff Lawrence, a 29-year-old DJ, graphic designer and photographer from Seattle, said he'll decide if he's dumping Instagram after he sees what the company plans to do in black and white.

"Thankfully we are all Internet savvy enough to know that people can say one thing and do another," said Lawrence, an avid Instagram user. "I am going to wait and see if Instagram takes this criticism to heart and changes the terms of service."

The backlash underscored the rising tensions between users of free social media services and the companies that are trying to profit from them. More users are asking for more control over how these companies handle their information.

Clayton Cubitt, 40, a photographer and filmmaker from Brooklyn, N.Y., quickly dubbed the new terms of service a "suicide note" from Instagram.

He urged his fellow Instagram users to revolt against the current policies at social media companies that he described as "you have a free place to post content and in exchange the company sucks the soul out of your life."

"They look at users as a herd to milk," Cubitt said.

His rants may have angered Zuckerberg, but Zuckerberg's sister Arielle Zuckerberg publicly "liked" Cubitt's Instagram snapshot of the most controversial part of Instagram's terms of service.

It's unclear if the Instagram backlash will cause lasting damage to the service.

Hacker collective Anonymous had urged its more than 780,000 Twitter followers to ditch Instagram with the hashtag #BoycottInstagram and posted screen shots from followers who had. The servers of, which helps users download their photos from Instagram, were overloaded Tuesday as Instagram users deleted their accounts and switched to other options such as Hipstamatic and Twitter's new photo service that has filters similar to Instagram. Yahoo said it has seen "strong interest" in its new Flickr app for iPhones.

Many Instagram users said they would give Instagram the benefit of the doubt — for now.

"I am going to rage about it, and get people to rage about it, until we change their policy," Pollock, 31, said in an interview. "There is just something so personal and beautiful about Instagram. Hopefully they don't completely ruin it."

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