Instagram sells us out!

A new privacy policy enables the Facebook property to use our pics in ads. Just don't expect any royalties

By Prachi Gupta
December 18, 2012 10:00PM (UTC)
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The popular digital filter and photo sharing app Instagram might become a lot less popular in a few weeks. The company announced changes to its Privacy and Terms of Service yesterday that are meant to "protect you, and prevent spam and abuse as we grow," which go into effect on Jan. 16. Instead, as the New York Times reported, Instagram's parent company, Facebook, quietly gave itself the right to share and sell its users' photos for profit.

Nestled within the "Rights" sections of Instagram's updated terms, Instagram and Facebook can share or sell photos (to ad agencies, for example) without notifying users or compensating them for it:


"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 New York Times notes that using a person's "name or likeness" for commercial purposes might be in conflict with state laws that aim to protect the privacy of individuals. But CNET notes that the policy presents a problem for businesses, too: "That means that a hotel in Hawaii, for instance, could write a check to Facebook to license photos taken at its resort and use them on its Web site, in TV ads, in glossy brochures, and so on -- without paying any money to the Instagram user who took the photo. "

And minors are not protected, either:

"If you are under the age of eighteen (18), or under any other applicable age of majority, you represent that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to this provision (and the use of your name, likeness, username, and/or photos (along with any associated metadata)) on your behalf."

Once you agree to the terms of service, the company doesn't need to tell you when or how your photos will be used:


"You acknowledge that we may not always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such."

The only way to opt out is to delete your Instagram account. But Electronic Frontier Foundation senior staff attorney Kurt Opsahl explained to CNET that deleting an account after Jan. 16 doesn't necessarily protect those images, which may still be accessed by Facebook and Instagram. The best way to avoid becoming a part of what CNET dubs "the world's largest stock photo agency," then, is to delete your account by Jan 16.

Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at

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