Are you going to quit Instagram?

keepcalmandbackpedal[Update Dec 21:] Instagram announced a reversal of its plan to implement changes to the terms of service in regard to advertising – an issue at the heart of the current kerfuffle. Details at the end of this post.]

To many people – including me – one of the most exciting apps on your smartphone is Instagram, the online photo-sharing and social networking service initially popular on the iPhone and which exploded out into the mainstream during 2012.

I discovered Instagram when it released its mobile app for Android devices earlier this year.

Since then I’ve been the archetypal ‘happy snapper‘ where I find myself looking at my world through the mobile lens of opportunity in wondering how what I’m seeing will look with an Instagram filter applied to it.

Like much of the social web and the tools and services you can use, it’s a free service: you install the mobile app, sign up and off you go. You might have paused and decided whether you wanted your pics to be open to anyone on the net, or just to people you approve connections with beforehand.  Most people are open, whether they’re Instagrammers for personal pleasure or whether they’re curating and publishing content on behalf of their organization or brand.

Either way, you have that choice. Which brings me to the primary point of this post: choice.

A few days ago, Instagram announced changes to its terms of service that will come into effect on January 16, 2013. The changes have provoked howls of protest on Twitter and across much of the social web. Indeed, I’ve joined many of the voices in saying that it may well be time up for me on Instagram next month.

There are two specific elements in the updated terms that have caused the most disquiet among users, me included:

Instagram can share information about its users with Facebook (its parent company) as well as outside affiliates and advertisers.


You (your identity) and your pics could star in an advertisement without your knowledge.

natgeoinstagramIn a clear sign that the new terms are rattling some influential power users in the mainstream media, National Geographic magazine in the US said yesterday that it is suspending new posts to Instagram.

In its announcement – made as an image posted to its Instagram account – the magazine said “We are very concerned with the direction of the proposed new terms of service and if they remain as presented we may close our account.”

Lot’s of ‘we may…’ in there but the concern is plain to see.

I interpret the new conditions including the ones I highlighted above as meaning, in essence, that Facebook-owned Instagram (or maybe Facebook itself) claims a perpetual right to license all public Instagram photos including mine to any company or other organization it chooses, without any prior notification to me or any kind of payment, attribution or recognition.

If continuing with Instagram means going along with that, then I would choose not to.

If that’s what it does mean – and plenty of credible voices say indeed it does – then I intend to close my account. It’s such a pity as I think Instagram is pretty unique – it beats Flickr’s mobile app for Android and experience hands down – and I will be sad if I do stop using the service for reasons like this.

However, I’m not making any hasty moves as nothing will happen before January 16. Well, actually, a lot might happen before January 16, eg, Instagram possibly changing its mind in some ways in response to a growing backlash such as National Geographic’s position.

In a blog post yesterday, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom said “We’ve heard loud and clear that many users are confused and upset about what the changes mean,” saying that the company will modify specific parts of the terms to make it more clear what will happen with users’ photos.

Specifically, Systrom stated:

Advertising on Instagram From the start, Instagram was created to become a business. Advertising is one of many ways that Instagram can become a self-sustaining business, but not the only one. Our intention in updating the terms was to communicate that we’d like to experiment with innovative advertising that feels appropriate on Instagram. Instead it was interpreted by many that we were going to sell your photos to others without any compensation. This is not true and it is our mistake that this language is confusing. To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos. We are working on updated language in the terms to make sure this is clear.

[…] Ownership Rights Instagram users own their content and Instagram does not claim any ownership rights over your photos. Nothing about this has changed. We respect that there are creative artists and hobbyists alike that pour their heart into creating beautiful photos, and we respect that your photos are your photos. Period.

Very encouraging, a testament as to why listening to online conversations and then joining those conversations appropriately and swiftly is so key to social business success today.

So I plan to keep on snapping as I pay attention to developments between now and January 16. I’d recommend that stance to anyone, whether an individual Instagrammer like me or a business user like National Geographic. Take a look, too, at some thought-provoking points from Dan York on things to think about before you click that ‘close account’ button.’

I’m more optimistic than I was yesterday about a continuing relationship with Instagram.

(The ‘Keep Calm’ image at top courtesy of Mitch Joel who posted it to – where else? – his Instagram account.)

[Update December 21, 2012:] In a blog past yesterday, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom said that the proposed changes to the terms of service in relation to advertising would not happen next month.

There was confusion and real concern about what Instagram’s possible advertising products could look like, he said, and how they would work.

[…] Because of the feedback we have heard from you, we are reverting this advertising section to the original version that has been in effect since we launched the service in October 2010. You can see the updated terms here.

Going forward, rather than obtain permission from you to introduce possible advertising products we have not yet developed, we are going to take the time to complete our plans, and then come back to our users and explain how we would like for our advertising business to work.

You also had deep concerns about whether under our new terms, Instagram had any plans to sell your content. I want to be really clear: Instagram has no intention of selling your photos, and we never did. We don’t own your photos – you do.

Finally, there was also confusion about how widely shared and distributed your photos are through our service. The distribution of your content and photos is governed by our privacy policy, and always has been. We have made a small change to our terms to make that as clear as possible.

This is good news for users and for Instagram. It’s also testament to Systrom’s leadership in listening and making a swift decision to change course based on what customers had said.

I think such action has given him a huge benefit of trust – an important element in his company’s overall relationship with users when it comes to other related issues such as privacy and the updated terms of service concerning that.

Yesterday, I started experimenting with EyeEm, a startup based in Berlin, Germany, and a good alternative to Instagram. Their Android  app is very good – there are versions also for iPhone and Windows phones – offering different filters and some things I think are better than Instagram.

My thinking was that, while I’m in wait-and-see mode regarding Instagram’s proposed changes, I would look at what competing services are out there in case I did decide to leave Instagram by January 16.

While I will continue exploring what EyeEm offers – here’s my EyeEm page – I’m willing to give Kevin Systrom my trust and continue as an Instagram user.

  • If you’re a WordPress user, check out DsgnWrks Instagram Importer, a plugin that lets you import and backup your Instagram photos to your WordPress site. The latest version compatible with WordPress versions 3.1 to 3.5 was released yesterday, December 20. The developer says the plugin includes robust options to allow you to control the imported posts formatting including built-in support for WordPress custom post-types, custom taxonomies, post-formats, and more.

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Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.


    […] Are you going to quit Instagram? To many people – including me – one of the most exciting apps on your smartphone is Instagram, the online photo-sharing and social networking service initially popular on the iPhone and… […]

  2. Tom Raftery (@TomRaftery)

    I’ve already deleted my account Neville.

    A bit knee-jerk you might think (and you might be right!) but the way I look at it is:

    I publish most of my photos on Flickr.
    I choose to license them with a Creative Commons license, allowing anyone to re-use them freely, as long as they give attribution, and don’t use them to make money (non-commercial).
    Flickr may change their ToS tomorrow (though that’s unlikely) but even if they do, they can’t change the licensing of my photos already uploaded there (that’s prohibited by the terms of the CC license.

    On the other hand, while Instagram seems to be pulling back from the more egregious sections of their ToS, they still haven’t clarified what they perceive as the difference between ownership and licensing. They do say photographers maintain ownership – but that doesn’t change how they license and use the photographs.

    And what’s to stop them changing the ToS again in another 60 days, or 90, or gradually eroding the ToS until we’re back at the ToS announced a couple of days ago – it just took longer to get there?

    Nope, I deleted my account and I’ll be uploading my photos to Flickr, and no regrets.

    • Neville Hobson

      Thanks, Tom, You outlined your case well and with clairity. I have no disagreement with your reasons. But I’m waiting to see how the ToS will look once Instagram absorb all the feedback and what changes to it they make, whether just clarity in communication or in substance. Then I’ll decide whether to stay or leave.

      I also use Flickr – since 2004: over 5K pics online – but for much of this year, it’s been Instagram. I’m not a photographer, more the mobile phone camera snapper so I’m not so concerned about which hosting service and rights, etc. But I don’t like what Instagram’s updated ToS appear to be about in that regard.

      And you’re right – what’s to stop them making further changes? Same question can apply to Flickr, too – it’s owned by Yahoo, a company going through massive change and facing massive challenges, so who knows what may happen to Flickr in the future and its ToS.

      One very interesting thing Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom said in his blog post was that advertising is only one way they’re thinking of monetizing Instragram. What about a paid-for service, I wonder? How might that fly especially if paying for it gave you the user better rights and a more acceptable ToS?

      We’ll see: there’s just under a month for decisions.

  3. Tom Raftery (@TomRaftery)

    Hey Neville,

    Thanks for the prompt response. One question you asked is what’s to stop Flickr making similar changes to their ToS?

    Good question – to my understanding, the terms of the CC licensing says that the licensing can only be changed by the license holder (me, in the case of my photos), so Flickr can’t change the licensing on any of my already uploaded photos (something Instagram can do anytime they feel like.

    Flickr may decide to stop allowing people to use CC licensing at some point in the future (though I doubt they’d ever do that – they’d face a revolt which would make the Instagram one look paltry!) – if they did though, I’d look for another platform, but as I said, they can’t change the licensing on photos already uploaded.

    • Neville Hobson

      Good points re Creative Commons, Tom. CC isn’t something that applies to Instagram, as far as I’m aware – not seen any ref to such copyright – so something to bear in mind if anyone sees that as a signficant factor in choosing whether to use Instagram or not.

  4. Jeremy Schultz (@jschultz)

    I’m in the wait-and-see camp, too. I’m a big fan of some of the more open camera apps, like Camera+, that let you post where ever you please. Instagram has surprised me by how many people have created another network of people beyond Facebook or Twitter…and I’ll bet that will be sticky for more heavy Instagrammers willing to look past legal minutiae.

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