Instagram Takes Step Toward Profitability by Updating Its ToS, Causes Grumbling

Earlier this month, Facebook stated that it’s working on strategies for monetizing Instagram. Now we’re starting to see the gears in the money-making machine warming up.

Instagram announced an update to its Terms of Service and Privacy Policy documents today, with changes that will take effect on January 16, 2013. While it’s understandable that any service’s terms must change if rolls out a new business model, many users aren’t pleased with what some of the updated sections say.

In its blog post announcing the change, Instagram tries to put users at ease by reminding them that the copyright ownership and visibility of photographs will not change:

Nothing has changed about your photos’ ownership or who can see them.

Regardless, certain sections of the document aren’t sitting well with some users, including New York Times technology guru Nick Bilton, who tweeted the following:

Here’s what you’ll find under the “Rights” section he’s referring to:


  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:
  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.
  3. You acknowledge that we may not always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such.

Alexis Madrigal over at The Atlantic argues that Instagram should offer a paid version for loyal users who don’t want their photographs participating in Facebook’s monetization plans. Roberto Baldwin over at Wired has published an article on how to download all your Instagram photos and nuke your account.

Bilton has published a piece over at the New York Times that explains what these updated terms mean for you. The basic gist: user info can now be shared with Facebook and 3rd parties, your face and/or your photos may be featured in an advertisement without your knowledge (underaged users are not exempt), and ads on the service will not always be labeled as ads.

It’s important to note that simply using the service means you agree to the terms. The only way to completely opt out at the moment is to (1) not log into your account ever again or (2) terminate your account.

P.S. This week hasn’t started out very well for Instagram. Yesterday, Bilton published an article suggesting that founder Kevin Systrom had misrepresented facts to government regulators during the Facebook acquisition process (facts regarding whether or not Twitter had offered to buy Instagram for half a billion prior to the Facebook deal).

  • Vlad Dusil

    What did users expect? You can freeload on a popular service for a while before the investors want to see a return.

  • Dane Bryce

    So it means that ads will appear inside their app which, at the same time, could be showing one of your photos. I don’t see the big deal, as a business they want to somehow make money for a service none of their customers pay for.

  • Kevin Fulton

    I’d read 2 a little more closely. The way it’s worded says that the users are licensing their photos to be used in an adverstisement inside Integram. So, while you retain ownership of your photos, you are licensing Instagram/Facebook to make money off of your photos to use for advertising inside the application. Example: You take a photo of your car and that photo is used for an ad for Chevrolet, and you (as the photographer) get nothing. I’m not saying they WILL use it like this, but with how it’s worded, they COULD if they wanted to.

  • PaulJay

    Its like Google. Here take it. Its free. We’ve got cookies!

  • Kevin Fulton

    Flickr photos partnered with Getty Images so that the photographers can receive compensation for their works that are used in advertisements. As a photographer I’d expect that if somebody was going to use my photos in an ad that said company compensates me for my creative works. Instagram/Facebook wants to sell ads using my photos? Fine by me! Just be sure to cut me in so that I can continue to maintain my equipment to continue creating new works.

  • suǝddıʃıɥԀ ǝʞıW

    Free is often very expensive. I’d hope that more people (want to) see that, instead of really believing something is free.

  • Mick Orlosky

    The fact that they wont even tell you that they sold — err I mean licensed — your photo is just so gruesome. I don’t get why they have to be THAT evil. I get they have to make some money, I don’t see why they have to be extra evil to do it.

  • Thomas Hawk

    Flickr: “At Flickr Your Photos Are Always Yours”

  • eraserhead12

    So if you instagram something newsworthy, they could sell/publish/circulate your image without compensation or awareness on your part? I don’t think the average food + friends pics have anything to worry about, but this is still pretty alarming.

  • Wes Craft


  • 9inchnail

    They could and they will. But what are you complaining about? You are using their service for free and that’s the deal. If you don’t like it, get your own webspace and host your images on your own site. Running Instagram costs money, where are they supposed to get the funds to pay their bills? Their employees have to eat, too, don’t they? How are you gonna pay their salaries?

  • 9inchnail

    Yeah, but Flickr sucks balls. 500px all the way.


    There are better ways of going about this then forcing all users into something.

  • Alexander Petricca

    I’ve just deleted my account as a consequence of this- I wasn’t happy when Facebook bought it out and there has been a gradual Facebook like changes ever since. This clause is totally unacceptable and as someone who earns their living through photography, I cannot endorse what they are doing. My Facebook account will likely be the next to go!

  • cchdisqus

    I would find this troubling for photographers that use Instagram as social media marketing (I don’t but I know fashion and beauty photographers that do). They will Instagram a shot they did of a model recently and it circulates and they all like it…blah blah blah. But with instagrams new policy – I doubt that models, agents, and the photographers are going to like the idea that the new beauty shots they did for model x can now be used by Instagram to sell a product. Wtf? Yea that just seems wrong. Hmmmm.

  • Mat Miller

    It wont just cause grumbling…. they will loose users. But then again, maybe Facebook could care less? It is business, larger companies buy the smaller and slowly fade it out….

  • Artem Sapegin

    It’s good for all of us!

  • John Oliver

    The fact they are going to do everything behind your back is so rude. I wouldn’t mind so much if they cut you in on the money they made for using one of your images and help promote the person behind the image. I think that would gain users and encourage people to be creative rather than push them away!

  • Alan Dove

    There are only two kinds of computer applications: Open Source and paid. If a commercial service is being described as “free,” that just means they haven’t disclosed the price yet.

    On a separate note, what about model releases? Why is Instagram uniquely permitted to use uncleared photos of people for advertising?

  • Kevin Fulton

    So photographers who use Instagram to promote their works (which also cost money to produce) shouldn’t receive a piece of the pie if their photos are sold for an ad?

  • Bishop

    And without having a signed model release I wonder how Instagram keeps from being sued by third parties in the photos.