Instagram Responds to Controversy Over New ToS, Promises Changes


If you had any doubts regarding how much of a part of our culture Instagram has become, just take a peek at the public outcry that erupted after Instagram announced changes to its policies yesterday. The controversial edits were reported in media outlets around the world, and legions of die-hard Instagram fans took to social media channels to protest them.

People mainly focused on a section of the document that appears to give Instagram sweeping permissions to sell photos without consent or compensation to third-parties for advertising purposes.

Photographers, not wanting their photographs to be used commercially without their consent, immediately were up in arms.


Time published responses from tens of well-known photojournalists who use the service and are planning to quit due to the new policies. Other publications featured headlines stating that Instagram will be selling its users’ photos and will risk compromising the privacy of underage users.

There were tutorials published on how to download all your Instagram photos and nuke your account, and editorials on how Flickr stands to benefit in the wake of Instagram’s demise. Some called the policy change Instagram’s “suicide note”.

Certain power users are thinking of shuttering their accounts, while other notable figures already have.

Other publications tried to offer a more level-headed analysis of the revised documents. The Verge argues that the ill-worded terms are actually more innocent than they sound. Forbes has a term-by-term breakdown of the changes, explaining that it seems to be very similar to what Facebook is doing with Sponsored Stories.

The controversial ToS updates could pave the way for programs similar to Facebook's Sponsored Stories

The controversial ToS updates could pave the way for programs similar to Facebook’s Sponsored Stories

In the wake of all this, Instagram’s Kevin Systrom has responded with a post on the company’s blog. He writes that Instagram is committed to answering questions, fixing mistakes, and eliminating confusion.

Systrom goes on to say that Instagram will be rewording certain sections of the Terms to be more clear and cause less anxiety among photographers:

As we review your feedback and stories in the press, we’re going to modify specific parts of the terms to make it more clear what will happen with your photos […]

The language we proposed also raised question about whether your photos can be part of an advertisement. We do not have plans for anything like this and because of that we’re going to remove the language that raised the question. Our main goal is to avoid things likes advertising banners you see in other apps that 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 […]

One of the main reasons these documents don’t take effect immediately, but instead 30 days from now, is that we wanted to make sure you had an opportunity to raise any concerns. You’ve done that and are doing that, and that will help us provide the clarity you deserve.

Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom says it's not the service's intention to sell users' photos

Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom says it’s not the service’s intention to sell users’ photos

Instagram lost a huge amount of user goodwill over the past day through this controversy, which just so happens to coincide with a new surge in Flickr user satisfaction due to its well-received mobile app update (one that makes it very similar to Instagram).

It definitely doesn’t help that Instagram is now owned by Facebook, a social network that has had its fair share of ToS controversies. The two services are going to need to work some magic to reverse this PR disaster, especially as more and more media outlets attempt to capitalize on the news frenzy by posting lists of Instagram alternatives.

Image credits: Photo illustration based on photograph by Fibonacci Blue, Photograph by cheeseslave, Kevin Systrom, Co-Founder & CEO, Instagram by LeWEB12

  • muddyclouds

    Instagram has been a lot in the news here in sweden (and elsewhere) today for totally other reasons..

  • Steven

    This kind of thing was easily predictable when Facebook bought Instagram. That’s why I canceled my Instagram account the day the purchase was announced.

  • 2323232

    they are greedy scum….

  • DamianMonsivais

    Yes victory !!!

  • Tim

    I deleted my instagram account today as a direct result of it, and despite the Verge saying otherwise, I see no reason to re-enable or recreate it.

    The idea of Instagram making money off my work without having the decency to pay me a cut is equally abhorrent whether they do it by selling the photos, for whatever they’re worth, or by getting third parties to “sponsor” them – I am not some kind of currency to be bartered and leveraged around.

  • PaulJay

    Boring photography anyway. Bye instafacebookgram.

  •!/thelonelylights Adam Cross

    pretty sure deleting your accounts isn’t going to do anything – every image uploaded is backed up on a cloud. so they can still use your images if they want.

  • Duke Shin

    Pfft. As if anyone would want to buy anyone’s cutesy macro pictures of lattes and flowers.

  • Mark N

    What I wish is that the facebooks and instagrams of the world would set their tos and leave it. I don’t care what it’s set to. I can adapt and play those rules. Just wish they’d stop changing it every 5 minutes.

  • Jamie Weir

    But the idea of Instagram setting up the infrastructure and bandwidth for storing and showcasing all of your photos for you to share, without you paying them a thing, doesn’t phase you.

  • Phil Warner

    Like it or not, on Facebook, Instagram, etc….you ARE the product/currency.

  • Swade

    There was a protest over this? I’d rather not be apart of Instagram for that alone. It’s a free service… go elsewhere. Asinine.

  • Lynvingen

    If you are not paying for the service, you are not the customer – you are the product.

  • Jesse

    thats not a real photo…

  • Renato Murakami

    uuhh… is it just me, or has this happened over and over before in several other services… Facebook most notably. Didn’t a ToS change in Facebook made people complain about the exact same thing in the past? I do remember quite clearly that people were afraid Facebook was going to sell or use clients pictures.
    I think some other image sharing service had the same problem in the past.
    If I’m not mistaken, I remember reading a review article of several image sharing services with Flickr on top because they made it clear from the beginning that they’d never do something like that.
    Anyways, yes, I think it was pretty stupid for Instagram to change the ToS without so much as a warning after what happened to other services. I think even Google had problems with that at some point.
    But you know, all things considered, I think some people just love the idea of getting their pictures stolen and sold… harsh reality though? It’ll never happen. Why? Because really, who’d want to buy instagram pics?
    I’d like to hear more from a lawyer or someone who knows more about this though… is it even conceivable that a change of ToS magically grants a service ownership of all of the client’s content, to explore it commercially?
    I’m guessing if Instagram suddenly decided to open something like a stock image service offering people’s image commercially, it would eventually get a class action suit for selling creative content they don’t really own. A change in ToS wouldn’t hold value in court.

  • Mansgame

    After all is said and done, Instagram will be known as one of the, if not the the biggest flop in technology history (in terms of the money spent on it). There is the whole fad behind adding useless filters on bad pictures, and then all the money facebook spent on this dumb thing. The whole privacy thing is just the final straw.

  • David Eichler

    Yup, the way I read the Facebook terms of service, I don’t see anything preventing them from sub-licensing user content to anyone for a fee, and not paying any royalties to the content creators/copyright holders. There are other websites with similar TOS. And I don’t buy the arguments of those who claim the content is worthless to advertisers. Much of it no doubt is. But I think there is still plenty of content that might be valuable.

  • Alan Dove

    This is not a PR disaster or an error. It’s a negotiation.

    All of the “free” “social web” services share a business model that entails building a huge following while incurring massive losses, then figuring out exactly how much they can exploit those users and their data for profit. In the second phase, the companies go through a two-step process with the TOS: release a version that blatantly grabs as many rights as the company could possibly want, wait for the response to hit the fan, and then back off ever so slightly while claming people “misunderstood.” If you’re on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or any other services like them, you’ve already agreed that they can sell your information. You’re just haggling over the price.

  • #payphoneography

    Flickr still limits the free accounts to 200 photos… blah, worthless

  • Hugo Cuellar Rodriguez


  • mikemike9

    There’s no reason that they have to pay for it _this_ way though; Flickr’s deal is far more equitable.

    Also ‘faze’ not ‘phase’. Good little word.

  • Michael Hickey

    Their bandwidth and infrastructure is their problem. Not mine. So no. It doesn’t faze me, especially when I don’t owe them a living, nor even have to deal with them.

    Quid pro quo only works when both parties agree to the terms. Not when one party has an entitlement mentality just because they spent some cash on an idea.

  • Michael Hickey

    For the guy that voted me down:

    So, what you’re basically telling me is that if any Joe Schmo were to set up a site such as Instagram, I’m REQUIRED to share MY work, on THEIR server, on THEIR terms, and I’m supposed to like it?!?

    You’re stoned! That is exactly the entitlement mentality I’m objecting to.

  • faloc