News Column

Will Your Instagram Photo Show Up in an Ad?

Dec 19 2012 3:00AM

By Brett Molina and Jon Swartz


Instagram stirred outrage among users, and hints of backlash, on Tuesday with an update to terms of service that could let the photo-sharing service sell customers' photos as ads.

The new terms of use, effective Jan. 16, include a stipulation about user rights that has raised hackles.

"A business or other entity may pay" Instagram to display users' photos and other personal details "in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you," according to an excerpt.

The stipulation, first reported by The New York Times, applies even to users under 18.

Instagram says consumers still own their photos. But the new terms state that when a user adds a photo to an account, he is giving Instagram license to use it as content. Users can control which images are posted or deleted, as well as who can view their pictures.

But hours later, in a written statement, Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom said, "It is not our intention to sell your photos. We are working on updated language in the terms to make sure this is clear."

Instagram users reacted swiftly and angrily to the proposed changes, portending a possible user backlash. "I won't use it," says Tonya J. Powers of Memphis via Twitter. "Facebook has ruined Instagram. There are other cool filter apps that I can use on my pics." "Instagram's new policy is an egregious use of its customers information," adds Twitter follower @Craig_cgc. "I'll be gone."

Since it made its debut in 2010, Instagram has been a favorite app on smartphones, allowing users to add artistic flair to photos by applying a variety of retro filters, then share them with others. The service hosts more than 30 million registered users, who have uploaded more than 1 billion photos from Apple iOS and Google Android mobile platforms.

In April, Facebook scooped up Instagram for $1 billion in an attempt to strengthen its footing on mobile platforms. The privacy policy update by Instagram is one more step by Facebook to potentially cash in on its investment.

"The amount of money (Facebook) spent, they obviously want to get a return on it," says analyst Arvind Bhatia of Sterne Agee. Bhatia predicts Instagram could rake in between $500 million to $700 million in ad revenue in the next three years.

Still, the new terms of service seem to overreach, and it remains unclear how it would stand up to privacy laws in certain states, says Marissa Gluck, managing partner of Radar Research.

"The new (terms of service wording) is pretty egregious in terms of users' rights," Gluck says. "I think consumers understand that to keep a service free, some of their information will be used to target advertising."

The only way to stop Instagram from using consumer pics is by killing an account -- or using another service such as Camera Awesome and Flickr.

"This is starting to sound like a recurring Facebook strategy" of monetizing personal content, says Jonathan Yarmis, an independent Internet analyst. "I can't believe this policy is going to endure."

Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2012