Instagram responds to TOS outrage: "Thank you, and we’re listening"

"I’m writing this today to let you know we’re listening and to commit to you that we will be doing more to answer your questions, fix any mistakes, and eliminate the confusion," writes Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom, responding to a big brouhaha on their updated TOS. "As we review your feedback and stories in the press, we’re going to modify specific parts of the terms to make it more clear what will happen with your photos."

"Legal documents are easy to misinterpret. So I’d like to address specific concerns we’ve heard from everyone."

Read the full response here. Upset Instagram users, does the promise to "listen" and "modify" make you feel comfortable remaining a user? I'm curious how you feel.


    1. I’d recommend all who’s just like you decided to delete their Instagram account to first save their pictures. I did it using PastBook. This platform (at allows you to keep your Instagram and Facebook photos in a nicely designed books both online and offline: as a PDF or a professionally printed book. It also saves all comments and likes on photos. Highly recommend ;) 

    1. I just got the new app this morning, and found it really nice. I can post everything where I normally do, and it seems a lot nicer on the options for privacy. Plus, on Flickr I can creative commons my stuff, if I so choose. Not that I have anything worth using, but still. 

  1. “Legal documents are easy to misinterpret”

    If you’re trying to be honest, isn’t it the exact opposite? They need to say what they mean to hold up in court.

    1. I had the same thought at first, but I think it’s more that legal documents are in a foreign language that happens to ressemble English. You and I may think we know what’s being said, but only someone who speaks lawyerese can real know.

  2. If they want it to be more like Facebook’s Social Ads, I’ve been opted out of that since it was introduced.

  3. I closed my account already, but I’ll consider re-opening if they revise their TOS. As an illustrator and painter, I often snap sketches and in-progress pieces for my followers and whatnot. 

    Their original terms were fine, but the new ones actually conflict with my boilerplate rights contract and would keep me from sharing my work there.

    EDIT: As an illustrator and painter, I apparently skipped english class.

  4. ” 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.”

    What other way is there to interpret that?

    1.  There are two very distinct ways to interpret that. “A business or other entity may pay us *for the rights for said business or other entity* to display…” or “A business or other entity may pay *for us, and only us, on our site* to display…” Big difference. The latter incidentally is already basically allowed in the current Terms of Service.

      1. Lawyers get paid big bucks to write exactly what the client intends and nothing else.  If “for us, and only us, on our site” was what instagram wanted to say then you can be damn well sure that this is what the lawyers would have written. 

        This language was not an accident.  Believing otherwise is naive, at best.

        1. The EFF puts it best

          Update: Instagram has put out a statement on their blog saying that they plan to reconsider these changes, and will be modifying the language in the Terms.  Instagram also explained that they feel that the Terms were misinterpreted and they did not intend to sell photos.  Whatever their intention, the key is the language of the agreement.  We look forward to reviewing the revised Terms.

          1. It did seem like they were planning on doing things like sponsored accounts and possibly mix your content on say a brand page if your photos were relevant.  Like your photo of a Coke can getting on a Coke instragram stream not stick your photos on a Coke billboard.

          2. The EFF is correct in its assessment.  Instagram’s “apology” statement is disingenuous at best, or they (or their lawyers) are morons for creating a TOS that didn’t reflect what they meant.

        2.  Exactly my point. Only the one they actually said is valid. The idea that anybody can buy your pictures from Instagram shows a criminal lack of understanding of the English language (and not even legalese) and I strongly suspect it was done on purpose.

          1. I wasn’t agreeing with you.  The meaning of “a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos…in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions” is quite clearly that you are granting instagram a license to sell the right to use your content to a third party.  You may still retain copyright to your content (this is probably addressed elsewhere in the TOS) but the meaning of this language concerning third party usage isn’t confusing at all. 

            My point was that if instagram was reserving this right only for themselves then that is exactly what the TOS would have said.

            Disclaimer:  IANAL

  5. I don’t give one ounce of a damn. Seriously, if Instagram wants to use my photos of my cats, random things in my yard, and me and my girlfriend making weird faces at the camera, *I* don’t give a shit. The random snapshots I take with Instagram aren’t High Art–I don’t give a fuck what *anyone* does with them.

        1. And when your images show up as ‘typical members’ of a fascist political organization or a fundamentalist church?

          1. The joke will most *assuredly* be on them! In fact, I hope against hope that someone snakes a photo of me for their creationist pamphlet or their neo-fascist website–I will gleefully link to or post a photograph of said material on my website and proceed to mock it and the folks responsible for it unmercifully. It’ll be AWESOME.

          2. Speaking of which, your webiste (as linked in your commenter profile) returns a 404 error for the root directory.

      1. Somewhat related, but also somewhat off topic….I have a question for the attorneys here: If there is a contract on Instagram, or anywhere else, that states that someone at age 13 agrees that their parents are aware that they have set up an account, how is this in any way enforceable? You are making the minor agree to the terms and not the adult. Since minors can’t be held to contracts, with some exceptions, usually involving work, how does that remove liability? I suppose you might be able to prove an implied consent by the parents if the child shares photos with the adult guardians. But what happens in cases where the adults have no knowledge and the child has lied? Maybe a better example would be porn/otherwise adult sites requiring the user to be 18, how can they be protected by that agreement, even if fraudulent on the part of the “agreer”, if that person isn’t old enough to enter into a legal contract? How does this remove liability from the site?

        Sorry for the wordy wordiness.

        1. Typically contracts involving minors are not void per se, but unilaterally voidable by the minor. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Instagram/Facebook TOS include an affirmation that the user is over 18, just to avoid liability for what the minor does or what is done to the minor… sexting, predation, etc. It only removes liability, doesn’t make a contract enforceable, and only removes liability in very limited circumstances, often to different effect in different states.

          (not a lawyer, did go to law school 20 years ago, which is several epochs in law dog years)

    1. Come on! This is a selfish view. When you think of whether actions are ethical or not, you don’t reflect on how it affects only you. You have to ask whether the act is ethical in general. To do otherwise is to simply act as a spectator. Just because your Instagram snapshots apparently have no value to you doesn’t mean that this is the case in general. And if you don’t care about the rights of others, then you have no right yourself to comment on an ethical matter.

      1. What are *you*, some kind of genius Instagram photographer who manages to make a dopey app for adding silly filters to pictures of people’s lunch crank out masterpieces that are the envy of Robert Mapplethorpe *and* Ansel Adams?

  6. I was wondering if I had to stop asking my friends to stop Instagram-ing me, since I didn’t want to end up being an accidental ‘Are you looking for an Asian Bride?’ model.

  7. The fact that legal documents are easy to misinterpret is one of the biggest problems with the entire concept. It’s ridiculous that they’re written in such a way as to be as close to unintelligible to non-experts as possible, thus requiring one to obtain the services of often ridiculously expensive experts to even know what the bloody things actually say.

    The expectation that typical a lay person both could (and would) read a page or five of legalese and actually know and understand what it all means is ridiculous, and functionally discriminatory.

    1. But that isn’t the expectation.

      The expectation is that despite everybody feeling uncomfortable about it, we’ll continue to suck it up and live under Damocles’ sword without ever figuring out how to stop the racketeers of legality destroying society.

      And it’s a pretty sound one.

  8. My first take when this broke was ‘yours or your children’s profile/pics in unlabeled ads’; all were deal-breakers for me. I’m less concerned about location and activity data — I’m hoping they’ll do the right thing as I enjoy Instagram and would like to keep using it, but I *will* pay very close attention going forward…

  9. Meh. I am glad this all happened. Facebook is a necessary (arguable) evil, but Flickr is a fantastic alternative to Instagram. I’d argue more than superior already. 

  10. This is classic Facebook strategy — notwithstanding what i am guessing is a sincere reluctance to engage in this sort of fiddle-faddle by the small, talented group that built Instagram before they got glommed by Facebook.

    Here’s how it works:
    1. Announce ridiculously egregious “privacy policy” or TOS
    2. Await hue and cry and gnashing of teeth throughout internet
    3. Announce we’re sorry, we are misunderstood — we’ll make it better.
    4. Walk back egregious policy so it’s somewhat less egregious.
    5. Wait for a while.
    6. Gradually creep it back up to where your corporation wants/needs it to be.

    Alex Madrigal’s piece on why free software sucks (don’t have a link close to hand) hits it on the head — he opines that if the Instagram guys didn’t sell out, and instead sold subscriptions at a modest fee, they’d have a cash cow for the rest of their lives (or the popularity of their app’s, at least) that would easily rival the cashout they took from Facebook. I can almost sense the discomfort they must be feeling foisting this horse shit on their public.

    But sadly these concerns matter little to most. The larger problem, beyond Facebook, Instagram etc., is that people are gradually devaluing their own sense of privacy and content control. “Eh, it’s fun to use, so I guess I don’t care if they use the stuff I made and make money off it.” Like Daffy Duck in the Aladdin’s lamp cartoon with Bugs: “Consequences, shmonsequences, as long as I’m rich.” Substitute “it’s free” for “I’m rich” and you get what I mean.

  11. Ahem (clears throat): “Corporate Emails I Have Known,” by Ernest Valdemar.

    1) “You may have heard rumors in the business press about the impending sale of our company. Rest assured that there are no such plans, and in the unlikely event of a sale, our valued employees will be the first to know.”

    2) “We all recognize that the economy is in decline these days, and recent news about our company is troubling. There are currently no plans to reduce headcount, and we will make every effort to reduce non-resource expenditures until the crisis has passed.”

    3) “Our latest employee survey shows that morale is at an all-time low. This is clearly a failure in communicating executive strategy to our employees. The executive team would like to apologize for this oversight. To improve communications, we will be holding a series of all-hands webinars six times per quarter, scheduled at 12:00 PM EDT (8:00 AM PDT). Attendance is mandatory. The cafeteria will be closed.”

    4) “I’m writing this today to let you know we’re listening and to commit to you that we will be doing more to answer your questions, fix any mistakes, and eliminate the confusion.”

    Welcome to my world, hipsters!

    1. The sad reality of corporate doublespeak is that it has now destroyed any trust people ever had in their employers. If you work in a company with more than 1000 employees, and you receive an email saying “We’re doing great! Soon there will be pay raises!”, you’ll automatically assume the worse: the pay raise will be less than what it was previously promised, or it will come with redundancies for other people, or we’re really doing so bad that they have to blatantly lie just to stop you from running for the hills… The average person now assumes that his corporate masters lie pretty much all the time, which destroys morale and removes any pride in one’s own work, hence reducing productivity and eventual profits.

    2. Good thing that this is all from a parallel universe, where Pacific and Eastern time zones are separated by four hours.

  12. I always find it amazing how many companies try the old “oh, it’s just a silly mistake and we totally didn’t mean that” approach after they get caught taking the piss.

  13. But WHY are TOS and other modern legal documents  hard to understand? As more and more of the everyday users have to relate to them, they should be written in a plain language that is easy to understand, yet to the point about its meaning. You don’t have to use legalese to make a legal document.

  14. I just want to point out that:
    1) Many years ago, Facebook claimed ownership of all photos posted on your Facebook page. I haven’t followed this closely (at least in part because I’ve never had a Facebook page), but I’ve no reason to think these terms of service have changed.
    2) Twitter claims ownership of any photos you tweet. This came to widespread public notice earlier this year when Twitter noticed a good picture of a breaking news event (I forget which) that some user had tweeted to their friends, and sold the picture to the wire services.

    None of this makes Instagram’s rights grab any less creepy (especially the part where they suggest they’ll advertise to you and your friends using your own photos), especially since the first of these was Facebook, which owns Instagram. But I’m just trying to point out that the appropriation of copyrights to images in social media is far more widespread, and didn’t start this week with Instagram.

  15. I’m surprised that nobody is picking up on a key line of Systrom’s walk-back post yesterday: “To provide context, we envision a future where both users and brands alike may promote their photos & accounts to increase engagement and to build a more meaningful following.” I can’t read that any other way than as introducing the move towards Facebook’s much-maligned pay-to-promote scheme that already has a great number of people upset. I’d always used IG as an informal sketch book while my Flickr account was more of a portfolio. Even with a CC license on my Flickr work I’ve been paid for their use from sources around the world. I know my photos have value, and I’d rather pay a bit to Flickr to maintain control over them than to surrender their future value to FB.

  16. My goodness, I’m sure glad we’re rushing headlong toward turning our data over  companies like Instagram and Facebook.

    I saw a post on Reddit where someone said something along the lines of, “I’m outraged at the new Instagram terms of service!  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to download some music and movies.”  Makes me want to open an Instagram account just to flood it with copyrighted content…let ’em claim ownership!

  17. I appreciate how this blog post makes no mention of the bigger issue, the new transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to “use” your photos. Before, Instagram only held a limited license to displaying the photos on the service, a very clear license necessary to run the service, nothing more. Now, this new license basically gives Instagram the ability to sell your photos without recompense or permission (it’s already granted by you).

    I could care less about advertising. I care more about them not clarifying how they “use” my photos.

  18. I feel that the more serious issue is the lack of credit for the image creator nor the need to inform the creator that the images will be used. All of the snobbery over the medium “5 megapixel images are not important” is just that, snobbery. I have seen some really excellent work come out of Instagram and many serious photographers use it. Due to them walking back the ToS I will keep my existing images in there but will be using EyeEm which supports end user copyright as the repository for my future images. Given that Instagram is owned by Facebook, I don’t want all of images in the hands of a single conglomerate. 

  19. The fact that they made certain features suddenly unavailable, thereby strong-arming an upgrade, which itself forced users into agreeing to the now infamous updated TOS, makes it more than a “misunderstanding.” People sit around tables and draw this shit up on whiteboards.

    Zuck n’ co trying to spin it to the tune of “We’re the kinder gentler understanding mega-corp” which is equally worthy of eyerolls and about as believable as Rush Limbaugh trying to convince us that the GOP are all victims of a liberal conspiracy.

    Finally, as users, what did we expect? That an app with a quadrillion users and virtually zero downtime ran on rainbow twinkies and fairy poo?

  20. I don’t know what the big deal is, or what all the outrage is all about…   I mean, it’s fucking free….  

    1. About free software… This is a challenging issue now and will continue to be in the foreseeable future. Instagram, like many social sites, is a collaborative effort between the owners of the software and the community that voluntarily creates content. The time spent by the community as whole building a network that has value, is not trivial at all. The community has invested themselves in making Instagram great.

      Yes, it didn’t cost anything to download and install, no disagreement there, it is free software. But that’s not really the issue that’s bugging people.

      People are upset because Instagram published a service agreement that indicated they are preparing to sell photos posted by users to 3rd party companies for advertising.

    2. It’s hardly free if it costs you your pictures. 
      You are swearing, what is your outrage about? 
      What upsets you?

  21. Am I the only one who thinks Instagramed pics are horrible?  There is zero charm in using filters.  Think “Word Art.”

Comments are closed.