Am I the product? Users react to Instagram’s terms of service shift

National Geographic Instagram suspended account terms of service

Instagram has had quite a week, and it’s still only Tuesday.

Monday morning the company released an update to its terms of service, set to go into effect on Jan. 16. The new terms had a good deal of phrases that users disliked, especially related to how Instagram might connect user content with advertising, and the internet collectively freaked out. While some of the response was certainly over-hyped, Instagram eventually realized it needed to clarify, and the company released a note to users on Tuesday afternoon that said it was listening and would alter some of the terms.

The reaction engaged average consumers in a debate that the technology and publishing worlds have been engaged in for some time now: Namely, that when consumers don’t pay to use a service, their data and information becomes the product, and that product can go up for sale (although of course this concept has its limitations.)

On Monday, several journalists and consumers articulated why they found the updated terms problematic, including Wired’s Mat Honan, who like many users, wrote that he was quitting Instagram on Monday:

“The issue is about more than using photos of my baby daughter, or deceased grandmother, in ads. The greater concern should be that the company would forge ahead with such a plan without offering any other option to the very users and data that built it.”

But many others weren’t as sure. Kevin Roose writing for NYMag reminded us that monetizing a user’s content with advertisers is how most social media companies make money, and Instagram is no different:

“Do people even know how the Internet works? The entire point of starting a social-media company is that it gives you the ability to make money by advertising things to people. Facebook does it by selling packets of user data to companies like Wal-Mart. Twitter does it by tacking promoted tweets onto your search terms. Gmail does it by showing you ads for Lean Cuisine next to your mom’s e-mail reminding you not to binge-eat during the holidays.

This is called “monetization,” and we have come to accept it as the inevitable price of getting cutting-edge Internet services for free. But now that Instagram, too, has decided to monetize, we are outraged.”

Artists and professional photographers in particular were incensed by the idea that their creative work might belong to the service that could then re-purpose it:

But once Instagram recanted on Tuesday, clarifying that it doesn’t want to sell your photos or turn you into an advertisement, the resulting reaction was more mixed:

Most interestingly, not everyone was assuaged by Instagram’s response. National Geographic, still one of America’s greatest symbols of photography, posted that it was suspending its Instagram account and would close it unless changes take place:

Instagram Photo

And for some celebrities, the changes still spell concern as well:

And it’s possible that the Instagram terms of service parody account explained the company’s stance best of all:

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