Instagram’s 24-Hour Terms Of Service Whoopsie

As quick as you can share a heavily filtered photo, Instagram seemingly reverses course on a TOS change that many thought would mean it could sell your photos to advertisers.


The past 24 hours have given Instagram a world of PR pain. After the photo-sharing service updated its privacy policy and terms of service on Monday, news rapidly spread that the company was planning to sell users’ photos and data to third-party advertisers without compensating or notifying the users themselves. Then, after a day of turmoil and biting user backlash over the changes, Instagram finally resurfaced with a blog post from CEO Kevin Systrom, who stressed that “it is not our intention to sell your photos.” Here’s the timeline of every oops and upset that happened along the way:


1. Instagram Quietly Changes Its Terms Of Service

Instagram photo: Flickr user Sputnik world

The photo sharing giant makes a few updates to its terms of service. The updates include new provisions under the “Rights” section that mark a potentially significant shift in the way Instagram can share user information–including photos, browser activity, and location data–with third-party advertisers:

  • “To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.”
  • “You hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service, except that you can control who can view certain of your Content and activities on the Service as described in the Service’s Privacy Policy…”

Instagram also publishes a blog post regarding its new privacy and terms of service updates, but the post includes no mention of the specific new changes that would soon stoke the user rage heard ’round the Internet.

2. The Web Notices, Gets Angry

Instagram photo: Flickr user ohsarahrose

Late Monday night, around 10 p.m., an early report from CNET comes out. The news quickly makes its way into stories across various outlets Tuesday morning, from stories about why the Instagram policy change could be good for Flickr’s new iPhone app to this one from The Register with the headline, “New Year’s resolution: Don’t use Instagram, it’ll sell YOUR latte pics.”

3. Everyone Gets Angry

Instagram photo: Flickr user black18shirts

As word of the terms of service change starts spreading, users start backlashing against Instagram (on Twitter, of course). Many threaten to quit the service and find alternative camera apps:

” Who else is deleting their Instagram? These _____ be actin up.” –@mfeeney


“So i hear IG will start selling photos that posted for their own profit. Is this correct? If so then me and everyone i know will be OUT!!” -LeBron James, @KingJames

“Looks like I’ll be quitting @instagram in January if they don’t drop the new policy. Why would I voluntarily let my art be stolen and sold?” –@marydoodles


4. Instagram Does Damage Control, But Says The New Terms Are Here To Stay

Instagram photo: Flickr user dustinenderlong

CEO Kevin Systrom posted to the Instagram blog stating, “To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos.” Systrom didn’t say anything about reversals to the updated terms of service, but he did attempt to do some damage control by reminding users that, technically, Instagram has never claimed ownership rights to users’ photos, and plans to stay that way. Systrom also says Instagram has no plans to field users’ photos to be part of advertisements. “Our main goal is to avoid things likes advertising banners you see in other apps that would hurt the Instagram user experience,” he writes. “Instead, we want to create meaningful ways to help you discover new and interesting accounts and content while building a self-sustaining business at the same time.”

5. Will This Be Enough To Keep Users From Going Astray?

What does this all mean for Instagram? The amount of user vitriol sparked by the initial interpretation of its new policy changes could be enough to keep some disgruntled users walking away from the service and looking to other alternatives from hungry competitors, such as Flickr.

[Broken Lenses Image: Flickr user Pedro fait de la Photo]

About the author

Christina is an associate editor at Fast Company, where she writes about technology, social media, and business.