Why I Might Leave Instagram and How They Can Save The Situation

intagram_trashI really like Instagram.  It makes it easy to upload photos on the go, share them with all of my followers, and get social feedback via likes and comments.  Unfortunately, recent events are leading a lot people to close their accounts.  I’ve got to admit, I’m considering closing mine as well.

In a recent change to their Terms of Service, Instagram has declared that:

  1. Instagram does not claim ownership of any Content that you post on or through the Service. Instead, 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, except that you can control who can view certain of your Content and activities on the Service as described in the Service’s Privacy Policy, available here: http://instagram.com/legal/privacy/.
  2. 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. If you are under the age of eighteen (18), or under any other applicable age of majority, you represent that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to this provision (and the use of your name, likeness, username, and/or photos (along with any associated metadata)) on your behalf.

The "non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free" portion of the first part is pretty standard.  This just means that when you upload a photo to Instagram, they can display it without worrying about you suing them.  The next part is a little troubling though.  "Transferable" and "sub-licensable" means that they can take the permission you’ve granted them and give it to someone else.

Alone, this might be worrisome, but wouldn’t lead to a mass exodus.  The second part, however, means that Instagram could take the photos you are posting and the name you are posting under and sell them to a company to use in ads.  Furthermore, the money that Instagram gets from the ads would remain with Instagram.  They wouldn’t share it at all with the people who took and posted the photos.

History Repeats Itself

Two years ago, I was a happy TwitPic user.  I would take photos with my phone and send them to TwitPic to be posted online.  (I didn’t have a smartphone or data plan at this point.)  Then, TwitPic changed their Terms of Service to give them the right to sell posted photos to third parties without sharing the revenues with the users who posted the photos.

Sound familiar?

There was an exodus from TwitPic as people switched to YFrog and other services.  I, on the other hand, took a different route.  I used a combination of WordPress plugins to create my own photo posting area on my blog.

This worked well until I got a smartphone and Instagram came to Android.  These happened at about the same time and I was lured in.  I didn’t play with filters, but I liked the ease of taking a photo and posting it.  I also found that I liked the social feedback.  Comments and likes were easily administered and displayed.  So I began to use Instagram for all of my "on the go" photo postings.

Instagram’s Clarification

Now, Instagram had heard the uproar and has tried to clarify by saying "it is not our intention to sell your photos. We are working on updated language in the terms to make sure this is clear."  For the moment, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.  The new TOS doesn’t take effect until early January so they have until then to change their Terms of Service.

If they don’t change it in a favorable manner, however, I’m going to leave.  I don’t care if they say "we don’t plan on selling your photos" if their Terms of Service says "we can sell your photos any time we decide to do so."

How To Make This Into A Win

Now, I’m not going to begrudge Instagram making a profit.  I know that it costs money to run the service and they need to recoup this somehow.  And selling users’ photos is a clear path to revenue.  But this was the wrong way to go about it.  Were I to implement this, there would have been massive changes.

First of all, the service would be opt-in.  Not a single photo would be sold unless a user first decided that they wanted their photos to be available to be sold.  Secondly, marking your photos to be sold would just mean that you would get offers from companies.  A company would find your posted photo, decide they’d like to use it, and would make an offer to you via a channel Instagram would provide.  When the user and the company came to an agreement, Instagram would handle the payment.  Instagram would take a cut and the user would get the rest.  The company would then get the photo to use for the agreed upon purpose.

This system would allow photos to be monetized while still retaining user control over how their photos are used.  If anything, it would make their system more useful and might lead more people to post there hoping that their photos would lead to an offer.

Has Instagram’s new Terms of Service made you consider closing down your Instagram account?

Note: The trash can icon above is by hrum and is available from OpenClipArt.org.  I added the Instagram logo to it.