Instagram Founder: Chill Out. We’re Not Selling Your Photos

Image-sharing service promises ads like Facebook and Twitter, and no banners

After nearly the entire Twitterverse lit into Instagram over its proposed policy changes—in particular playing telephone over language changes in the company's terms of service that would let Instagram make money off users’ photos—Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom has published a blog post aiming to clear the air. In short, settle down.

“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 and it is our mistake that this language is confusing. To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos,” Systrom wrote.

So what is Instagram’s intention? To create an advertising business that blends its parent company Facebook’s strategy—as well as Twitter’s and Tumblr’s and Foursquare’s. With the policy updates, Instagram is paving a path for users, especially brands, to pay to promote their photos. That would echo such native social ad treatments as Facebook’s Page Post ads, Twitter’s Promoted Tweets, Tumblr’s Radar units and Foursquare’s Promoted Updates.

Instagram’s ad units could even be called something like Promoted Photos. But, per Systrom, they definitely won’t be traditional banner ads and won’t feature users’ photos in ads, he stressed. Instead of banners, Instagram seems to see the money in its metadata.

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