Instagram changes their TOS (then changes it back) and a week later, Somni Sengupta at NYT Bits Blog is ON IT:

In a blog post on the company site last week, Instagram’s co-founder, Kevin Systrom, sought to reassure users that their “content,” in Web jargon, belongs to them. He pointed to the company’s Terms of Use, which spelled out that “Instagram does NOT claim ANY ownership rights in the text, files, images, photos, video, sounds, musical works, works of authorship, applications, or any other materials (collectively, “Content”) that you post on or through the Instagram Services.”

He added in plainer terms, “We don’t own your photos — you do.” It was a smart tactical move. We tend to be proprietary over the pictures we make and share with friends.

It was also, as the law professor Eric Goldman put it, part of a raft of company policies that can be “misleading shorthand.” We might own our data, but we may not always control what happens to it. There are too many complicated, sometimes impenetrable clauses in company Terms of Service. Take for instance Facebook, Instagram’s parent company. Its users are also told they own their data, but their preferences for certain products – their “likes” – can be used in the service of a type of advertising known as Sponsored Stories.

More succinctly.

Nilay Patel of The Verge (once again) brings up a few good points about the Instagram TOS fiasco. As he points out, the new TOS was actually worded much better than the old one. But the tech press blew it and caused a panic over basically nothing. The end result is the reversion to the old TOS, which technically allows for more of the kind of shady stuff everyone was freaked out about in the new one. Nice work, tech press.

And I think he’s right about the lesson for startups: don’t mess with something no one is complaining about — and lawyers: be as vague as possible in your documents. Both of those things suck.


The notion that Instagram may use this reversion to try to do shady stuff still reads as foolish. Does anyone really think Instagram would try to get away with any such actions — especially now? Why? They clearly stated that wasn’t the intention. Sure, intentions do change. But the story is the same: if Instagram actually does shady things, people will stop using Instagram. No one benefits.

Look, at the end of the day all you have to think about is this: do you believe the services you’re using are out to exploit you? If so, don’t use them. Sure, a good TOS may be able to protect you from some of that, but hardly from all of it. If a company wants to fuck you, they’re going to figure out a way to fuck you. You shouldn’t be using a service that you think is trying to fuck you.

I don’t believe Instagram is that service. Nor do I believe Facebook is. But if you do, it’s simple: don’t use them.

More rational thinking from Mike Masnick on the Instagram TOS changes:

Furthermore, even if the terms are worded poorly (it’s mostly boilerplate, and you’ll find somewhat similar terms in lots of places) if Instagram really went out and started selling your photos to appear in, say, a big magazine or TV ad, there would be significant public backlash over that, such that it’s probably in their own best interest not to do that without direct permission.

Exactly. Does anyone believe Instagram or Facebook would be stupid enough to do this? Why? Because they’re “evil”? Only an extremely paranoid or insane person would believe that. To make money? Sure, but that money would quickly fall to $0 when everyone left over actually justified outrage.

Despite what everyone would like to believe, these companies are neither stupid nor evil.