Posting Instagram alternatives is not the solution to terms of service changes

Martin Brinkmann
Dec 18, 2012
Updated • Jan 4, 2018
Companies, Facebook

By now you have probably read about Instagram's Terms of Service changes that go live on January 16, 2013 which is about a month from today on. Reddit is full of Instagram news from all over the web at the moment that either rephrase what the terms of services change means for users or try to provide users with alternatives to Instagram.

In short, Instagram from January 16 gets a worldwide non-exclusive license - free of charge - for all photos that users upload to the service. They can sell the photos, use them in advertisement or use them for anything else they can come up with, without telling or compensating the creator of the photo.

The terms of services make this very clear:

Instagram does not claim ownership of any Content that you post on or through the Service. Instead, 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, available here:

Instagram users are up in arms against this policy change and rightfully though. What may happen for instance is that one of your photos, maybe even showing you, a family member or pet, is used for advertisement. Since you do not have any say in the matter you may end up advertising a product that you do not agree with at all. Everyone else who sees the ad on the other hand may assume that you endorse the product.

Some websites have started to post articles that list the top X Instagram alternatives. While it may make sense to switch the company in first place to avoid the policy change, and maybe even download and then delete all of your photos on Instagram, it does not really prevent the alternative to make the same change.

What we have here is a fundamental problem of the Internet where users give up rights as soon as they share information on the Internet. It does not really matter if the information are shared on sites like Facebook, Google+ or Instagram, as soon as information are published, there is a chance that the data is being used by third parties.

I have the feeling that most Internet users are unaware of the dangers of publishing data on the Internet, that's at least the only explanation I can come up with why so many share information publicly that I might not even tell all of my closest friends.

In the case of Instagram, it is not really the fault of users of the service, as they did not have any say in the company's terms of services change. There are however enough examples where users decided to ignore terms of services or do not mind them at all, even if they put users at a disadvantage.

What feels a bit strange in regards to Instagram is that the company claims on the official blog that "nothing has changed about [a users] photo ownership or who can see them". While this may be technically correct, it still means that photos are used for a purpose the user has no say in nor would necessarily agree with if informed about it.

The official Android app displays the change in your stream which at least means that the company does not try to sneak the change past its userbase.

What's your take on the change and are you affected by it?

Update: Instagram has published a reply in which the company states that the company has removed the "can be used in advertisement" part from the agreement.

The language we proposed also raised question about whether your photos can be part of an advertisement. We do not have plans for anything like this and because of that we’re going to remove the language that raised the question. Our main goal is to avoid things like advertising banners you see in other apps that would hurt the Instagram user experience. 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.


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  1. Jignesh Padhiyar said on December 28, 2012 at 6:51 pm

    A good post here. Facebook has been doing the same thing for quite long now and nobody really bothered. With a media push, though, Instagram got into trouble. Nevertheless, it’s a kind of world we live in. ToS and Privacy issues in social media sites like Facebook are a real concern but not everyone is actually paying the right heed.

  2. JohnMWhite said on December 19, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    I find it difficult to believe Instagram when they claim they did not have any plans for the advertising scenario envisioned when they wrote it directly into their new terms of service. Pretending that their language was simply ‘unclear’ is almost insulting. Come on, be a grown up and admit you over-reached and your users slapped your hand back. That kind of honesty might actually earn some respect rather than the usual bland corporates doublespeak.

  3. kalmly said on December 19, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    What a surprise!! :D

  4. Nebulus said on December 18, 2012 at 11:50 pm

    Kind of pointless to use Instagram or Facebook to store encrypted data, isn’t it ? :)
    @David Bradley: what if you want it on the internet, but not abused by corporations for their own purposes and profit? :) This is not almost impossible, and will probably not be possible at all in the future.

  5. David Bradley said on December 18, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    My mantra: If you don’t want it on the Internet, don’t put it on the Internet. ’nuff said.

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on December 18, 2012 at 11:15 pm

      I agree, or at least use proper encryption that you have control over ;)

  6. Paul B. said on December 18, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    Switching away from instagram and zuckerberg may be the best solution we have. It’s called voting with your feet. And if it doesn’t happen, they will get away with this outrage.

  7. ilev said on December 18, 2012 at 10:08 pm

    Facebook… :-)

  8. ilev said on December 18, 2012 at 10:08 pm

    Face needs to cash back on the $1B they have paid for Instagram.

  9. Nebulus said on December 18, 2012 at 10:02 pm

    I’m all for options, but unfortunately the moment that a service becomes a paid one, a good part of their customers will just leave. So they prefer to trick the users with a free service, and when their number is big enough, they close the “trap”. And it works, because by then, users are too lazy to change to another free service, or they are too used to the old one to even consider a change.

  10. Matthew R. Miller said on December 18, 2012 at 9:35 pm

    Photore backs up your Instagram photos in high quality form to your hard drive. It takes minutes to leave the service:

    1. ilev said on December 19, 2012 at 8:33 am

      Is it only for Mac ?

  11. Yoav said on December 18, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    Not everyone can establish a business model based on search, like Google. I just wish that these companies would give us options. Why don’t they say: “subscribe for X dollars a month or else pay your way by allowing us to use your private information.” That way everything would be honest and clear and the customer can choose.

  12. Nebulus said on December 18, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    This is a bad change, and a sign of things to come. When you post something online, you don’t lose the right to that photo, text, etc., but you might lose the exclusive right to use it. I suspect that more and more online services will start doing this in the future, and that is because users will not care too much about it. If enough people would say “No!” and leave, online services will think twice before making such policy changes.

  13. Dennis said on December 18, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    The truth is any alternative will have the same fate as long as it’s a “free” service. To quote Alexis Madrigal from ‘The Atlantic’ :

    “Truly, the only way to get around the privacy problems inherent in advertising-supported social networks is to pay for services that we value. It’s amazing what power we gain in becoming paying customers instead of the product being sold.”
    ( Source: )

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