Instagram’s TOS Flap Shows That the Internet Is Not ‘Business As Usual’

oops_my_bad_postcard-p239033682826893193en7lo_216Yesterday we told you about the changes that Instagram made in their privacy policy. Mainly because the initial take on the changes were extremely negative and the ripple effect was palpable.

Now a day later Instagram is trying to help all the dust settle without any more damage of dropped accounts and the company’s reputation being dented any further. In a blog post from Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom title “Thank you, and we are listening” we get the following:

Yesterday we introduced a new version of our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service that will take effect in thirty days. These two documents help communicate as clearly as possible our relationship with the users of Instagram so you understand how your data will be used, and the rules that govern the thriving and active Instagram community. Since making these changes, we’ve heard loud and clear that many users are confused and upset about what the changes mean.

I’m writing this today to let you know we’re listening and to commit to you that we will be doing more to answer your questions, fix any mistakes, and eliminate the confusion. As we review your feedback and stories in the press, we’re going to modify specific parts of the terms to make it more clear what will happen with your photos.

Systrom addresses each area in more detail but its this line in the explanation that Instagram will not be selling photos that really hits the heart of the matter.

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.

A very good job of taking responsibility and I would like to venture a guess as to who really screwed the pooch on this one: Instagram lawyers. You see, there is this culture of creating dense and truly ‘legal’ terms of service that confuse average people and this event could be evidence that the days of confusing legalese may need to draw to close.

The reason lawyers play games with language is that they never want to say never. They need to create loopholes so people can try to do things that maybe aren’t in the spirit of the term but can legally fall within the letter of the term. Basically, it’s sneaky and underhanded and thus lawyers enjoy the reputation that they have.

What might have been said in plain language is that “We are not going to sell your images but they can be used for advertising purposes.” People may still be unhappy but they would be for the real reason which is that they don’t want their images in ads. The idea of Instagram selling your photo is off the table when stated as such (at least to me it is). And the ad piece? Just ask Instagram owner Facebook for their opinion and you’ll likely get a “They’ll get over it!”.

What this whole debacle shows is that businesses may need to rethink how they communicate terms and services in the future. Plain language will beat long drawn-out tiny print every day and it might even gain the respect of your customer. And if you want to take the risk of putting confusing legalese out as your TOS’s then expect the viral backlash to potentially be fast and furious.

Lastly, don’t expect people to act rationally. Even though there was nearly a month before these new terms were going into effect people were canceling the service. Even National Geographic didn’t give it time to set in, they just put up a message saying they would stop posting photos.

Before we go though let’s remember one other thing. Instagram is owned by Facebook and there is no other company on the planet that has stepped on more toes and still come out relatively unscathed than Mark Z. and Co. This blowback was probably anticipated by the TRUE Instagram which is now Facebook. Instagram can roll out the co-founders as representatives all they want but the real decisions come from Facebook and Facebook is ruthless.

If you ever had any warm fuzzy feelings towards Instagram as a brand you should shelve those because they are owned and directed now by a publicly traded Facebook. This is the company that has run over privacy concerns of their users since their inception, has pressure to make money and has exhibited very little moral and ethical fiber in its past dealings. To think that the Instagram brand will be above that is just being naive.

Your thoughts?

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