Instagram Assures Users It Will Not Sell Their Photos (Updated)

By Cameron Scott 

This morning tech blogs and social media lit up with users reacting to changes to Instagram’s privacy policies, which some users took to give the company permission to sell user’s photographs to advertisers. Instagram has taken notice and has issued a response reassuring users that it is not claiming rights to their photos.

“Instagram users own their content and Instagram does not claim any ownership rights over your photos. Nothing about this has changed,” wrote co-founder and CEO Kevin Systrom on the company’s blog.

Instagram, from the sounds of its blog post, expects to introduce something akin to Sponsored Posts like those on Facebook — in other words, the right to display on Instagram users’ photos for the purposes of advertising while still identifying them as belonging to a particular user.

“Our intention in updating the terms was to communicate that we’d like to experiment with innovative advertising that feels appropriate on Instagram. Instead it was interpreted by many that we were going to sell your photos to others without any compensation. This is not true,” Systrom said.

Systrom laid out an example of the kind of advertising with user photos it might support.

“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 said.

Perhaps misreading the new terms, many users had promised on Twitter to migrate to Flickr.

“I guess the Instagram-to-Flickr diaspora is in full force, my phone seems to be lighting up with a notification every fifteen seconds,” tweeted Warren Ellis.

But Rory Cellan-Jones, a reporter at the BBC, tweeted that he had “just spotted that Flickr also advertises next to my photos. [I] don’t remember getting paid for that!”

For background, the offending passage of the new privacy terms reads:

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 previous terms stated that “Instagram may place such advertising and promotions on the Instagram Services or on, about, or in conjunction with your Content. The manner, mode and extent of such advertising and promotions are subject to change without specific notice to you.”

Update: National Geographic is still so concerned about the change in terms of service that it announced late Tuesday that it would stop posting photos to Instagram.