Instagram is changing its user agreement, which will allow the site to sell the images it hosts, without payment or notification to users.
The new policy will take effect on 16 January 2013. Since it was announced this week, however, it has already caused concern among users and consumer rights advocates. The changes come a few months since the photo-sharing provider was acquired by Facebook.
Instagram users cannot opt out unless they delete their account before the revised agreement takes effect in January.
The changes grant Facebook a perpetual right to license all public Instagram images to companies or other organisations, including for advertising purposes.
“Some or all of the Service may be supported by advertising revenue. 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," the new agreement reads.
It could effectively turn Instagram into a commercial photo library, except that photo libraries usually pay photographers for their contributions.
According to the BBC, Instagram says the update "means we can do things like fight spam more effectively, detect system and reliability problems more quickly, and build better features for everyone by understanding how Instagram is used.”
While there is a growing trend for the users of free web services to essentially ‘become the product’, the new Instagram policy in its current wording appears to go further than comparable ones from free services such as Picasa (owned by Google) and Flickr (run by Yahoo).
Alan Pelz-Sharpe from 451 Research, told the BBC, "It's a barefaced tactic that Facebook and Instagram have taken, and one that will likely meet with many challenges, legally and ethically.”
New York photographer Clayton Cubbit dubbed the new policy ‘Instagram’s suicide note’, and posted it on his own Instagram feed.
If the backlash escalates, however, Facebook and Instagram may have to revise its new user agreement.
There are also privacy concerns, both in the possible commercial sale of images taken by individuals and the potential use of ‘associated metadata’, which could reveal information about the location where a photo was taken. A new clause in the agreement also apparently grants Instagram immunity from liability from lawsuits if it makes private photos public.
Twitter recently launched a photo filtering and sharing feature to its platform, seemingly in response to Instagram cutting off the mechanism to display images easily in Twitter cards. There is a multitude of other photo editing and sharing services – some free, some paid for – and if the Instagram controversy continues, they may see people migrating over to them instead.
Should companies be allowed to sell its users’ content and data as part of sweeping terms and conditions, even if the basic service is provided for no charge? Discuss it via the comments boxes below or through the Trusted Reviews Twitter and Facebook feeds.