Social media proves its worth when it comes to spreading news across the world but occasionally it can create it too. Yesterday (18 Dec 2012) it seems everyone was talking about Instagram and what they plan to do with users’ photos.
Instagram announced a few changes to their T&Cs and most people did the same thing they do with all T&Cs, speed-reading through them not really understanding or caring what had changed. A few however decided that they’d delve deeper and apparently uncovered an evil plot…
Instagram are going to sell our photos and make millions from our personal property!
What surprises me most about this is that I seem to be amongst the very few who weren’t outraged by this news and didn’t even consider deleting my account in protest. Many others though took to their Facebook accounts (the irony) and Twitter to complain about this sudden infringement on their privacy, copyright, freedom, human rights, the Geneva Convention, the Rome Statute, and all the other laws that have nothing to do with posting on social media sites but have been cited as laws that Instagram is now breaking.
Let’s set the scene a little. In April 2012, Facebook bought Instagram for $1bn. That’s quite a lot of cash and no doubt they made all the money they needed for the purchase from all the subscriptions they charge Facebook users. No, wait, hold on, Facebook is free. So how did they have all that money? Oh yeah, selling advertising. Despite Facebook being free for the user, every time its T&Cs are amended there is outrage.
Posts about how Facebook is now going to start owning our homes, sell our children or kill our pets surface and users start citing those laws mentioned previously and threaten to close their accounts. Yet things die down and everyone carries on as normal because really nothing much actually changes.
Facebook does not sell your photos.
What it can do though, if your settings allow, is use your information to send you targeted advertising. It can read our data and use it to tell advertisers how many of us like a certain type of chocolate or what TV programmes we watch. It can use our profile picture to show our friends what brands we like but, if our privacy settings are configured correctly, it won’t show profile pictures to people we don’t know.
All in all, besides some trailblazing data capture methods, Facebook is no different to any other clever marketing tool that is designed to research customer trends for the purposes of selling advertising.
Let’s say you still don’t trust Zuckerberg and co but still want to use Facebook. That’s fine, just don’t share things you don’t want them to know about and make sure your privacy settings are up to date. It amazes me how many people have their mobile numbers and personal emails on their contact pages and still have open accounts for the world to see, yet complain when they hear that once again Facebook threatens to tell everyone what colour underwear they are wearing.
So back to Instagram. $1bn, that really is a lot of money to pay for a company that at the moment isn’t making money. It might shock you, and I’ve blogged about this before, but Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, Google+, Instagram, and all the other social media sites around today and coming in the future are not developed for fun. They are developed to make money. I know, how dare they!
When this news surfaced one tweet that was reprinted by the media at large said “This is Instagram’s suicide note.” I agree and it would be if Instagram were actually doing what these news reports claimed. Lets say a company was to suddenly say they were now going to use our photos, even the ones from users whose accounts are made private, to make money. I would fully expect that all but the very narcissistic of us would leave, it would indeed be commercial suicide. But that’s not what they said.
What Instagram, well Facebook, is doing is amending its T&Cs to bring them into line with Facebook’s. It wants to be able to offer its new platform to businesses to make money. It means that as time goes on, they may use our data to show what brands we are associated with and it may mean that we get targeted advertising. This might decrease the user experience slightly but it’ll be no worse than watching a tv programme on a commercial channel rather than the BBC, even then you can try to ignore the adverts.
Instagram’s co-founder, Kevin Systrom, confirmed this in a statement on their site’s blog late yesterday and also added:
“Instagram users own their content and Instagram does not claim any ownership rights over your photos. Nothing about this has changed. We respect that there are creative artists and hobbyists alike that pour their heart into creating beautiful photos, and we respect that your photos are your photos. Period.”
Some have called this backpedaling, I’m not so sure. I think perhaps what happened is what usually happens in a situation like this. A few people got the wrong end of the stick, they ran with their paranoia and others caught on. Meanwhile Instagram sat back and watched and got a lot of free international publicity out of it. Probably about $1bn worth.
Again if you still don’t trust Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and all the others that you enjoy all the benefits of for free, then as The Independent’s, Deputy Editor, Archie Bland says: maybe it’s time to move on.