Ah, the joys of terms of service, or ToS. We all know we should read them carefully, but so few of us do. I know I’m guilty of clicking “I Agree” to ToS agreements for social media sites without reading the fine print. For all I know, Facebook gained the rights to my first-born child when I signed up.
Photo-sharing service Instagram recently discovered an inherent contradiction in how people view terms of service. Few of us bother to read them before we use a service, but when we read about proposed changes to TOS, we rise up in an angry, pitchfork-wielding mob.
The Great Instagram Riot of 2012
In December of 2012, Instagram unveiled changes to its ToS, to be put into effect in January 2013. The changes looked very similar to Facebook’s, which shouldn’t be surprising: Facebook recently acquired Instagram.
Most of the new ToS was pretty standard, but one section got the Internet into a furor. It stipulated businesses could pay Instagram to display usernames, likenesses and photos with paid or sponsored content. As the photo owner, the user received no compensation.
The result was an Internet firestorm. Tweets expressing outrage rained from the skies. Websites offered advice on how to cancel Instagram accounts and expunge the photographs from the service entirely. Services used to download or move Instagram images crashed under the traffic, and refugees fled to rival photo services. The Lo-Fi Filter Apocalypse was upon us.
Instagram immediately came out and said they had no intention of selling anyone’s photos. But they’re one of Facebook’s lapdogs now, so who was going to believe them? Finally, Instagram waved the white flag, announcing the offending portion of the ToS agreement would revert to the original wording.
Justice done, the enraged residents of the Internet dispersed, returning to the noble tasks of trolling YouTube and looking at LOLcats. Victory was theirs!
What Really Happened
As with any event where emotions run high, the truth was somewhat obscured in all the turmoil. In fact, the changes to Instagram’s terms of service were similar to those used by Facebook and actually limited what the company could do with your images.
Facebook’s sponsored posts rely on ToS wording similar to Instagram’s proposed changes. If you, for instance, like a pain management clinic on the social network, the company could pay Facebook to make your post a sponsored link and display it prominently in your friend’s News Feed.
Instagram was simply bringing their ToS into line with their parent company’s terms. The new ToS specifically stated your images could not be modified or used to create derivative works, two factors necessary for most advertising and, interestingly, not banned in the October ToS. In other words, by forcing Instagram to revert to the original wording, users actually gave the company more control over their images.
Yup, we made things worse, not better. I don’t know about you, but I’ll be thinking about this next time I decide whether or not to read a company’s terms of service.
Author Bio:- By day, Carl works at a pain management clinic – he finds the work exhausting but rewarding. By night, Carl is an aspiring novelist who enjoys sharing his blog posts on a large array of topics with the world.