Last week Instagram announced changes to their terms of service to be implemented in January. It caused a brouhaha heard ‘round the internet for several days, as half the users cried foul and deleted their accounts while the other half wondered what the big deal was.
The furor was over one section in the terms, which was rewritten in such a way that would allow Instagram to use user photos in paid advertising in “a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license.” Instagram assured users that the site doesn’t “own” their photographs, but that wouldn’t stop them from selling them directly to advertisers for use in marketing campaigns.
Naturally, many people were not okay with this change, especially professional photographers and people who actually make money from their photos or likenesses. In response to the outrage, Instagram’s co-founder, Kevin Systrom, backpedaled–assuring users that Instagram didn’t actually intend to use photos the way it sounded and would rewrite the new terms more clearly. Plenty of people, however, have pointed out that nobody should be surprised by the predatory-sounding terms because all social media terms contain similar language.
Here’s how others compare:
Facebook Is Testing You
Instagram is now owned by Facebook, leading some to speculate that the Instagram changes are an attempt by Facebook to test the waters before making similar changes to its own privacy and media policies. The fact is, Facebook’s terms are very similar to Instagram’s proposed changes, with one important difference: Facebook allows users to opt out and Instagram does not. With Instagram’s policy, the only way to opt out is to delete your account before the January 16th deadline.
Twitter Sells Out
Last March, everyone was up in arms because when Twitter sold user data to two research companies who would then provide the information to other companies to mine for marketing purposes. Although this is somewhat different from Instagram selling actual photographs directly to advertisers, it still means that anything you post to Twitter may be used by marketers for target advertising. Like Instagram, the only way to opt out was delete your account before they sold the data.
Flickr Fires Back
Photo sharing service Flickr wasted no time in taking advantage of Instagram’s misstep, almost immediately offering 3 free months of Pro level use on the site, as well as reiterating their year old statement: “We feel very strongly that sharing online shouldn’t mean giving up rights to your photos. Our Terms of Service clearly spell out that Flickr/Yahoo doesn’t own the photos that you upload. You, as a member, maintain all ownership rights to the photos that you upload to Flickr.” Although Flickr is partnered with Getty Images to use photos posted on the site as stock photography, individual users determine whether their photos are private or are available under different licensing levels.
YouTube Isn’t So Different
YouTube makes it clear in their terms of service that you retain ownership of all content you upload; however, its policy about using your media is at least as self-serving as the one proposed by Instagram. YouTube says that, by uploading, you grant not only YouTube, but other users as well “worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the Content in connection with the Service and YouTube’s (and its successors’ and affiliates’) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels.” That’s pretty bold, not to mention sweeping.
And Neither Is Google+
The Google+ terms of service contains similar language, although Google insists it’s different because you always own your content. The problem is, ownership of the content isn’t the problem—it’s what social media companies are allowed to do with it that upsets people, and Google’s terms also assert their (and their partners’) rights to use, change, or distribute your content. To be fair, they do not claim that they can sell it to advertisers for use in marketing campaigns, so perhaps that is the difference between Google+ and Instagram.
The bottom line is that it’s more common than not for social media companies to include language allowing them to avail themselves of your data as they see fit—it’s the primary way they make enough money to stay afloat while you use their services for free. Perhaps realizing that users and their data are the actual product, not the site itself, will either prevent future outrage over what is actually pretty standard language, or be a catalyst for across-the-board changes.