Instagram Sparks Controversy, Subsequently Apologizes

Instagram Sparks Controversy, Subsequently Apologizes

imagesInstagram has had an interesting 48 hours.

The photo sharing app’s policy changes sparked a huge amount of controversy yesterday when news hit that Instagram claimed the right to sell its users’ photos at will. CNET reports that the company’s vaguely written policy change granted Instagram “the perpetual right to license users’ photos to companies or any other organization, including for advertising purposes, which would effectively transform the Web site into the world’s largest stock photo agency.”

According to reports, this means that third party companies could have written a check to license Instagram photos, thrown them into some brochures, and distributed them without informing or reimbursing the user. Understandably, users were upset, and the news spread faster than a hipster on a fixed-gear bike.

The issues to Instagram’s now-abandoned policy included an immunization from liability, including class action lawsuits, in the event the company made private photos public. Another addition indicates that “you acknowledge that we may not always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such,” which conflicts with the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines that indicate advertisements should be clearly labeled.

Instagram’s updated property policy, which would have taken effect on January 16th, landed three months after Facebook acquired the photo-sharing site. And while monetizing a popular app is a worthy venture, the policy change was quickly revoked once users started calling it “Instagram’s suicide note.” Co-founder Kevin Systrom wrote an apologetic blog post the following day, but not before Flickr, Blipfoto, and other Instagram competitors used the opportunity to promise better treatment to users.

Yahoo spokeswoman Ellen Cohn pointed out that “We are seeing strong interest in our recently enhanced Flickr for iPhone app and hope our users continue to enjoy sharing photos with family, friends and the world.” And Meaghan Fitzgerald, head of marketing for 23snaps, told CNET that “We will certainly do our best to make sure that Instagram users are aware of 23snaps as an alternative service.”

In his blog post titled “Thank you, and we’re listening,” Systrom said it’s “our mistake that this language is confusing” and that the company is “working on updated language.” He also emphasized that Instagram does not want to claim ownership rights over its users photos. In regards to Instagram’s business model, Systrom wrote:

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. 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 (eg, following the account) and your profile photo — might show up if you are following this business.

The post is suitably apologetic, but is it enough to fix Instagram’s damaged image? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Scott Kaufmann
[email protected]

Scott is Partner at Lucid Agency and a lover of all things technology, marketing, investing and entrepreneurship. Scott volunteers on the board of the Denver-based Nonprofit Celebrate EDU and as a mentor for SeedSpot (a Phoenix-based social startup incubator).

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