Instagram’s Terms of Service and the Importance of Reading

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Instagram App review (2 of 3)

The social media cosmos was ablaze with vitriol directed Instagram and its parent Facebook. Instagram updated its Terms of Service earlier this week, and statuses everywhere exploded. Articles cropped up, too, regarding the general outrage. The claim by many, regardless of its basis in reality, was that Instagram could now sell any of its users photos at all to anyone for any price without any notice or compensation to the user. That wasn’t actually ever the case, and it speaks to the importance of reading. More on that after the break.


Everyone hates legalese. People who write legalese hate legalese. The comedian Jim Gaffigan summed it up nicely when he said (this is paraphrased), “Why does it take 80 pages to say I will owe you money for the rest of my life?” It’s true. Legalese comes to us now in the Terms of Service for any app we download and program we install. I’ll know that I can stomach the Terms of Service when the scroll bar is roughly half the page. That is almost never the case.

Let’s turn our attention to Instagram’s updated Terms of Service. Here’s what sparked the maelstrom:

“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.”

The fine folks at The Verge did a solid job of actually explicating these terms before Instagram issued an official response to the outcry. Instagram would like you to know that you, and only you, own your photos. The entry under “Rights” that sparked the outrage was the second right listed. Folks seemed to ignore the first which reads:

Instagram does not claim ownership of any Content that you post on or through the Service. Instead, you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service, except that you can control who can view certain of your Content and activities on the Service as described in the Service’s Privacy Policy.”

I took the liberty of bolding that first sentence. Right there. See that? They don’t own it. The whole “selling of photos” is akin to the way in which your friends’ activity shows up in sponsored posts on Facebook. For example, a new entry that pops up in your news feed reads, “Yon Yonson likes Wisconsin Cheez Hats!” Because your friend Yon likes it, you might like it, too. It makes Wisconsin Cheese Hats less foreign.

Anyway…this whole torrent of confusion speaks to the importance of reading, which is a two-step process. First, you internalize the words on the page. Second, you take the time to understand what you just internalized. Granted, the language of Instagram’s new Terms of Service was, at first, confusing, so more time is necessary to unpack it.

The folks at Instagram said that they would rather not interrupt your experience with tacky ad banners. Instead, they’d streamline everything by showing what some of the people you follow follow. Remember, Yon Yonson likes those Cheez Hats. So, if you follow Yon, you might be more inclined to follow Cheez Hats when you see his name attached to the photo he took of a Cheez Hat.

This post is a call to action for all of us, myself included. Let us all take some time to read (internalize and understand) the Terms of Service before we raise our pitchforks.

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