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Instagram's New Terms of Service Trigger Instant Backlash

By Deanne Katz, Esq. | Last updated on

Instagram's new terms of service and privacy policy were posted for a less than a day before users of the popular photo-sharing service started crying foul.

The online uproar led the company to post on its official blog that it would soon "modify specific parts of the terms to make it more clear what will happen with your photos."

The terms at issue aren't especially different from what similar companies have adopted in terms of user privacy and advertising. But it's some additional language that has users worried about how the terms will affect them.

This kind of online privacy panic has happened before, but the specifics of Instagram's new terms may warrant additional worry. It may even require people to get help from an attorney.

The changes, originally set to take effect Jan. 16, mostly affect two issues, according to TechDirt. The new terms state that the company may sell users' photos or information to third parties, and that it may use their images in advertisments without notifying or compensating them. The actual legal language is posted on Instagram's website.

Selling user information isn't new and while users are often upset about it, after the initial uproar most complaints die down with few users actually leaving.

What's making people upset is the fact that their images could potentially be used as ads. Not only that, Instagram is telling users that they may not know an image is an ad.

The issue of honesty in advertising could potentially be a problem for Instagram, but that's something they and their lawyers will have to sort out if someone files a legal complaint. For most users, the bigger issue is online privacy.

Not only would Instagram's terms technically allow the company to use pictures posted by users in advertisements (something Instagram insists will not happen), but they also give Instagram the right to use the images' metadata like where the photo was taken.

That raises some privacy concerns for users, since they can't opt out of Instagram's new policy. But other apps have a similar policy when it comes to using location data.

Since the digital data Instagram wants to use mainly comes from images, some of the biggest concerns would be for minors and for individuals featured in pictures who aren't Instagram users.

Indeed, Instagram's new terms state that for minors using the service, "you represent that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed" to the new terms. But the FTC, which recently raised concerns over digital privacy protections for kids, may not be so impressed with that policy.

As for non-users featured in Instagram pictures, the new terms suggest they could find themselves depicted in an Instagram ad without ever agreeing to the terms. If the recent Zappos case decision is any indication, Instagram's user agreement won't be much help if that person files suit.

Instagram's response to this week's user backlash ends by saying, "Please stay tuned for updates coming soon." Instagram users, and the Internet, are waiting to see what develops.

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