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What Do Instagram's New Terms of Service Mean?

By Deanne Katz, Esq. | Last updated on

Photo-sharing service Instagram published an updated version of its terms of service as well as its privacy policy on Monday. Instagram users did a collective double-take.

The company's blog said the updates, set to take effect Jan. 16, are aimed at combating spam, which has admittedly been a problem for the growing business, Forbes reports. But the new user agreement has raised some eyebrows about how Instagram will be using your photos going forward.

Some of the concerns are similar to things we've seen before in the terms of service for Twitter and Pinterest. But there are a few factors that make Instagram's agreement more troubling. For example:

  • Instagram may use your photos for profit. Other policies have said that by using an online service, the user is agreeing to license content to the service. But Instagram's updated terms of service go a step further by stating that:

    "[Y]ou agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos ... and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you."

    Critics blasted that paragraph, saying it would allow Instagram to place user photos in ads without permission or compensation. But in response to the online uproar, Instagram insisted Tuesday it would not put users' photos in advertisements, the Associated Press reports. Still, the company "would like to experiment with various forms of advertisements to make money," according to the AP.

  • Ads may not be labeled. Similar to the sponsored posts that other social-sharing services have created, Instagram says it may include usernames and pictures for ads. But it has also said it won't necessarily let you know when those posts are advertisements. Not only is that a little creepy, it could potentially be seen as violating the laws around truth in advertising.

  • Kids aren't exempted. Often policies specify that users under 18 won't have their information published or sold to other companies, but Instagram is taking a different tack. Instead, they say that any user under 18 agrees that they have a parent or guardian's permission to use the site. That language could potentially come under fire in court if an angry parent or the Federal Trade Commission challenges it.

  • Non-users might be affected too. Instagram is run on photographs that may include people who aren't users. But it doesn't appear the policy will do anything to protect those non-users from having their images used. For people who find their images being used by Instagram even though they aren't signed up with the service, it might be a good idea to talk to a lawyer.

  • There is no opt out. The only way to avoid having your images used pursuant to Instagram's new terms is to deactivate your Instagram account. Unlike Facebook, there are no privacy settings that can prevent you from having your pictures used by Instagram. At least, not yet.

Instagram posted its new terms online to give users a month's notice of the changes. But after a blistering response from Internet users, Instagram may be revising its terms of service once again, the AP reports.

"[I]t is our fault that this language is confusing," a post on Instagram's official blog said Tuesday. "As we review your feedback..., we're going to modify specific parts of the terms to make it more clear what will happen with your photos."

So for now, Instagram users will just have to wait and see what develops.

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