- Instagram claiming it could share information about its users with its parent company, Facebook, as well as outside affiliates and advertisers
- Photographs uploaded by users could be used in advertisements without any compensation for or permission of the users
- The only way to opt-out of the new policy would be for users to delete their accounts before the changes take effect on January 16, 2013.
While the changes immediately led to criticism from various consumers, celebrities and privacy advocates, a line that was often repeated by those either defending Instagram or declaring the outcry as melodramatic was, “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.”
However, as San Francsico designer Derek Powazek noted in a post to his blog the day after Instagram announced the proposed changes, this oft-repeated statement “has achieved a kind of supernatural resonance online.” Powazek concluded that we should not assume that, paying a company translates to it treating us better, or not paying a company allows it to treat us poorly. “Reality is just more complicated than that,” Powazek wrote. “What matters is how companies demonstrate their respect for their customers. We should hold their feet to the fire when they demonstrate a lack of respect.”
One week after the proposed changes were announced, Reuters reported that a California Instagram user had filed a proposed class action lawsuit, alleging breach of contract among other claims. Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom tried to reassure users with a blog post on the company site. “I want to be really clear: Instagram has no intention of selling your photos, and we never did,” Systrom wrote. “We don’t own your photos – you do.”
According to the New York Times, law professor Eric Goldman referred to such tactical moves as “misleading shorthand,” as there are too many complicated, sometimes impenetrable clauses in company Terms of Service. “Unfortunately, the lay audience usually misreads these complicated and nuanced contract provisions, resulting in histrionics (“they ‘own’ me!”) or platitudes (“it says right there in the TOS that users own their own data”), neither of which is quite right,” Goldman told the Times.
While some observers were quick to express doubts about how legitimate the lawsuit against Instagram is, it is important to note that one of our posts just last week touched on action being taken by California Attorney general Kamala Harris against Delta Airlines over concerns for consumer privacy. She is not alone, as other state attorneys general have also taken action against companies that sacrifice privacy to sell more advertising.
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