The Instagram Debate: And Why I Quit

On December 17, Instagram updated their terms of service with this insert:

“Some or all of the Service may be supported by advertising revenue. To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.”

Understandably, people were outraged. The assumption was that Instagram could freely sell their photos, and most people were not happy with this idea.

The same day, Instagram responded, implying that its users were confused about what the terms of service meant, and that they had not intended to sell their photos for profit.

Some people insisted it was nothing to worry about, and ridiculed people for “freaking out about it”. Others mocked Instagram users completely, saying that businesses would not be wanting to use people’s pictures of nail polish, feet, and badly posed pictures of themselves in the mirror.

Personally, my concern was those who consider themselves photographers whose photos would likely be considered for use in advertising.

Although I didn’t have many on my feed, I was following some professional photographers on Instagram, people who actually take photographs for a living. One a friend I’ve known for years, one who photographs vineyards mostly for her work, and people who consider themselves to be amateur but maybe have taken photographs for friends or family and gotten paid (I would place myself in this category). I was disturbed by this clause in the terms of service. No one can be sure if Instagram just didn’t think about the fact that people who already get paid for their photos use the service, or if they intended to possibly use these photos for profit in the first place. It may not be directly “selling” users’ photos, but when you already get paid for the photos you have, it is a violation for Instagram to be paid for someone else’s images for use in advertising.

Professional photographers still are beside the point. I feel that Instagram was banking on the fact that most people don’t read the Terms of Service, and expected most people to continue on with their lives without even noticing that they could see their photo in fun, innovative new advertisement. The biggest issue was that the lines for copyright on the Internet are blurring, and that the only way to opt out of that Terms of Service was to delete your account.

A couple of days later, Instagram’s CEO reversed the Terms of Service because of people’s protests. There is still not enough data available to know how many users left Instagram before the terms were reversed, although I feel that it had to be a substantial amount for the terms to be reinstated in the first place. The other essential fact is that Instagram has lost a lot of trust from its users, first by its acquisition by Facebook, and now with the Terms of Service fiasco. I felt that it said a lot for them to reinstate their previous terms to satisfy its user base, but I will not be reinstating my account. My trust in them has been lost, and I will simply find another platform to share my photos on.

It was sad to delete my account, because I had shared a good amount of photos, and Instagram was my link to photography on the move, when lugging around my DSLR is inconvenient and impractical with my schedule. I see something worth photographing, and my iPhone 4S has a good camera, and Instagram had the platform to share it easily with people I know, and kept me doing photography even when my ups and downs over the past year have left my DSLR sitting in its bag most of the time. I was upset and sad about deleting my account, but I realized that it was something I had to do in order to protect the possibility of a photography side-career or even making money from it.

What did you think of the Instagram debate? Did you think the outrage was warranted? Did you delete your account if you had one? What other apps are you planning to use if you have stopped using Instagram?

(I have signed up for EyeEm and entered the beta for Thumble ‘@thumbleapp’. I have not yet uploaded any photos, however.)

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