Instagram clarifies policy changes following user backlash

Facebook-owned start-up Instagram has been forced to clarify changes to its privacy policy and terms of service, after users were led to believe their private photos would be sold to advertisers.


Instagram, acquired by Facebook for US$1 billion in April, yesterday introduced a new version of its privacy policy and terms of service, which will take effect on January 16.


The new terms of service state: “You hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the content that you post on or through the service.”


“You agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos, and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.”


The changes prompted a major backlash from users, with many threatening to shut down their accounts and switch to other photo-sharing services, while others vented their frustration on Twitter, via the hashtag #quitstagram.


In light of the controversy, Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom has issued a lengthy statement on the company’s website.


Systrom was quick to point out Instagram was created to become a business, so advertising is a necessary and inevitable part of the service, although it isn’t the only one.


“Our intention in updating the terms was to communicate that we’d like to experiment with innovative advertising that feels appropriate on Instagram,” Systrom said.


“Instead it was interpreted by many that we were going to sell your photos to others without any compensation. This is not true and it is our mistake that this language is confusing.”


Systrom said Instagram envisions a future where both users and brands alike may promote their photos and accounts to increase engagement and build a more meaningful following.


“Let’s say a business wanted to promote their account to gain more followers and Instagram was able to feature them in some way,” he said.


“In order to help make a more relevant and useful promotion, it would be helpful to see which of the people you follow also follow this business.


“In this way, some of the data you produce – like the actions you take and your profile photo – might show up if you are following this business.”


Systrom said the main goal is to avoid things like advertising banners, as this would “hurt the Instagram user experience”.


“Instead, we want to create meaningful ways to help you discover new and interesting accounts and content while building a self-sustaining business at the same time,” he said.


Systrom said users will continue to own their content, insisting Instagram does not claim any ownership rights over photos. He also said nothing has changed with regard to privacy settings.


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