News & Views
Has Instagram succeeded in digging its own grave?

When Instagram was acquired by Facebook earlier last year, there were many who wondered if it would spell big changes for the popular image sharing network. And that change has finally come, bringing a heap of controversy with it.

Instagram recently unveiled its new terms of service, which includes a refined privacy policy which entitles the app to share data with new owner Facebook. More controversially, the new policy also gives Instagram the right to license any content on the network out to advertisers as they see fit. The permission of the individual who posted the photo is not necessary, and they will receive no royalties.

Perhaps predictably, Instagram’s loyal users saw red. Regardless of whether or not any advertisers would actually want to buy their filtered images of kittens and sunrises, they had been stripped of their rights as creators. Noah Kalina, the wedding photographer to no other than Mark Zuckerberg, has openly expressed his disappointment and concerns over how this may affect his livelihood. Many others have also commented that Instagram’s dismissal of personal choice in the matter is reminiscent of Facebook’s purposely oblique and constantly changing privacy settings.

The backlash has been immense, with high profile Instagram users all over the world boycotting the app, or quitting altogether. National Geographic sensationally closed its account, while CNN anchor Anderson Cooper asked his 3.4 million Instagram followers for alternative image sharing app recommendations, and numerous big brands ceased their Instagram activity.

It is a popular belief that Instagram owes much of its success to Twitter, but Instagram has distanced itself considerably from the micro-blogging platform since its acquisition by Facebook. As of this month, Instagram photos are no longer viewable on Twitter, and can only be accessed directly through Instagram.

Terms of service has been a contentious subject ever since social media and technology became mainstream areas of interest. Apple’s terms and conditions are notoriously unintelligible, and Facebook has been criticised time and time again. However, just because licensing rights are mentioned in Instagram’s new conditions, it does not necessarily follow that all images on the network will be mercenarily plundered for the company’s own monetary gain.

Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom was keen to stress the value these new terms of service would bring to Instagram users, particularly businesses. In an official blog, he explains: “To provide context, we envision a future where both users and brands alike may promote their photos and accounts to increase engagement and to build a more meaningful following. Let’s say a business wanted to promote their account in order to gain more followers and Instagram was able to feature them in some way. 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 (e.g. following the account) and your profile photo – might show up if you are following this business.”

In this light, the entire scheme seems a little less diabolical. Twitter are doing something similar, after all, with their Featured Tweets. That is unlikely to calm the hordes of outraged Instagram users, though. In order to escape the new terms of service, users must delete their accounts by January 13th. Not forgetting, of course, to download their photos beforehand.

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