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Instagram uproar: A testing ground for Facebook? (+video)

A popular photo sharing site owned by Facebook, Instagram released new terms of service on Monday. Now Instagram users have a month to decide how much control over their data they are willing to give up.  

By Gerry ShihReuters, Alexei OreskovicReuters / December 18, 2012


Instagram, which spurred suspicions this week that it would sell user photos after revising its terms of service, has sparked renewed debate about how much control over personal data users must give up to live and participate in a world steeped in social media.

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In forcefully establishing a new set of usage terms, Instagram, the massively popular photo-sharing service owned by Facebook Inc, has claimed some rights that have been practically unheard of among its prominent social media peers, legal experts and consumer advocates say.

Users who decline to accept Instagram's new privacy policy have one month to delete their accounts, or they will be bound by the new terms. Another clause appears to waive the rights of minors on the service. And in the wake of a class-action settlement involving Facebook and privacy issues, Instagram has added terms to shield itself from similar litigation.

All told, the revised terms reflect a new, draconian grip over user rights, experts say.

"This is all uncharted territory," said Jay Edelson, a partner at the Chicago law firm Edelson McGuire. "If Instagram is to encourage as many lawsuits as possible and as much backlash as possible then they succeeded."

Instagram's new policies, which go into effect Jan. 16, lay the groundwork for the company to begin generating advertising revenue by giving marketers the right to display profile pictures and other personal information such as who users follow in advertisements.

The new terms, which allow an advertiser to pay Instagram "to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata)" without compensation, triggered an outburst of complaints on the Web on Tuesday from users upset that Instagram would make money from their uploaded content.

The uproar prompted a lengthy blog post from the company to "clarify" the changes, with CEO Kevin Systrom saying the company had no current plans to incorporate photos taken by users into ads.

Instagram declined comment beyond its blog post, which failed to appease critics including National Geographic, which suspended new posts to Instagram. "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," said National Geographic, an early Instagram adopter.

Pushing boundaries 

Consumer advocates said Facebook was using Instagram's aggressive new terms to push the boundaries of how social media sites can make money while its own hands were tied by recent agreements with regulators and class action plaintiffs.

Under the terms of a 2011 settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, Facebook is required to get user consent before personal information is shared beyond their privacy settings. A preliminary class action lawsuit settlement with Facebook allows users to opt-out of being included in the "sponsored stories" ads that use their personal information.

Under Instagram's new terms, users who want to opt-out must simply quit using the service.

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