Instagram–is this the dumbest move ever? (and it gets worse)

I’m following with interest the online hubbub over instagram. The short of it is Instagram, owned by Facebook, changed their Privacy Policy and Terms of Service to include their right to sell the images on Instagram to anyone without any compensation. Not sure if they were going to let you know first, or just sell them.

This is not sitting well with the digital lynch mob. I’ve already seen major organizations or industry groups sending emails out to their broad lists encouraging any Instagram account holders to immediately delete their accounts.

The hashtag #boycottinstagram is going nuts–info on how to delete existing photos and your account, and lots of folks saying “bye bye instagram.”

Checking instgrams twitter (13 million followers) they are clearly feverishly working because it says right now (1:30p PST) “We’ll have more to share soon.” I suspect they will, and I fully suspect the offensive language will be very quickly removed.

Some quick lessons before  this insta-crisis goes away:

– crises come and go so quickly these days that they may be over almost before most of the world wakes up to them
– as fast as they go, the damage likely will linger–I fully expect that Instagram will suffer from a loss of trust and lost accounts for a considerable time after they reverse this dumb policy
– Facebook will not escape this–the behemoth is likely too big to be hurt too bad by this and they may come out and say that while they own Instagram they did not approve this policy or something like that. Even with that, they will be hurt by perception of lack of oversight. I expect the damage to be slight, but any loss of trust with the digital lynch mob is pretty serious when you are in the online business.


Since part of this story is the speed of these online crises emerging, and the speed of response, I’m continuing to track this. I went back to their twitter and found this link to the blog:

Frankly, I’m surprised and amazed at this. Yes, they say they are listening, but when you read it you get the idea they are saying–it’s not our fault you silly people don’t know how to read a legal agreement. But, we may modify some language to make it easier for you dummies to understand. Here’s what it says: Our intention in updating the terms was to communicate that we’d like to experiment with innovative advertising that feels appropriate on Instagram. Instead it was interpreted by many that we were going to sell your photos to others without any compensation. This is not true and it is our mistake that this language is confusing. To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos. We are working on updated language in the terms to make sure this is clear.

But, here is what their revised terms state: “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.”

Hmm, if that was their intention they may need to get a new lawyer. Or have some PR folks look over the legal agreement before publishing it.

My take–Instagram is digging a deeper hole. Like Netflix before, there was really only one way out of this. A very very fast response that said: Oops, we goofed. We’re sorry. We won’t sell your photos and won’t use your name, likeness or anything that belongs to you without your permission.”

Instead, they said: We’re listening, and we’ve decided you don’t know how to read legal documents. Instagram, you’re in trouble.

8 thoughts on “Instagram–is this the dumbest move ever? (and it gets worse)”

  1. This could be a huge compliance quagmire for college athletics (allowing student-athlete images in ads is an NCAA violation for the school) and using photos of underage kids. Facebook had a way for people to opt out of having their images used in ads of pages they “like” but I haven’t seen anything in Instagram’s language or on their site that says there is an opt out. I will be shocked if there is not. This is a perfect example, as you said, of poorly thought out ideas and launching them before all the kinks are worked out. Doesn’t anyone at Facebook or Instagram have enough smarts to figure these potential issues out ahead of time? Makes me wonder sometimes who is minding the PR store at these companies.

  2. Oh my god these guys just keep on making mistakes. I wrote about this story yesterday as its the first time I have been truly disgusted with the way a social media company operate. This is a classic screw up and the sheer arrogance to intimate that we have read it wrong is nothing short of rude.

    They should have apologised and said we hear you and here are a few alternatives. They could even have made themselves look brilliant and sharing if they had asked people if they were happy for their content to be shared and sold on for a share in any profits.

    The whole thing has been handled very badly and it really could be its suicide note as many have claimed.

    1. Instagram made another classic mistake trying to apologize using language that defers the blame to users, apologizing that the language of new TOS caused people to be confused. Wow–nothing like a non-apology to endear yourself to people. I don’t think the terms were confusing, they were just wrong. Too bad they just didn’t say, “we messed up, we hear you, we are sorry. We will change our service terms immediately.” I would have had respect for them. Now, it’s just another PR mess for the record books.

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