Instagram tries to talk its way out of disaster

Following yesterday’s outcry over Instagram’s radical changes to its terms of service, the company’s attempting to reassure users.

Ever since Facebook acquired Instagram earlier this year, it was clear that the service would have to be monetized somehow – and yesterday the company explained how. From next month, it said, it would regard itself as having a license to all photos posted by users, and would be free to pass them on to third parties without compensation.

Now, though, CEO Kevin Systrom is attempting to mend fences by explaining the changes in more detail, saying many users are ‘confused’.

“It was interpreted by many that we were going to sell your photos to others without any compensation. This is not true,” he says in a company blog.

But his explanation raises more questions than it answers.

“Let’s say a business wanted to promote their account to gain more followers and Instagram was able to feature them in some way. In order to help make a more relevant and useful promotion, it would be helpful to see which of the people you follow also follow this business,” he says.

“In this way, some of the data you produce — like the actions you take (eg, following the account) and your profile photo — might show up if you are following this business.”

Few would dispute that Instagram has to make money somehow. But all this is highly disingenuous. If using your name and image to promote a product isn’t advertising, then what is? Facebook was, after all, recently forced to allow users to opt out of its similar Sponsored Stories feature after a class action lawsuit.

And if Instagram isn’t going to use the photos you’ve posted, then why does it want perpetual rights to them?

In his latest blog post, Systrom doesn’t by any means guarantee that your photos won’t be used without your explicit permission: he says just that “it is not our intention to sell your photos” and “we do not have plans for anything like this”. These words are familar to anyone that’s ever heard a politician trying to leave his options open…