Instagram reacts to outcry over ads

Says user photos won’t be helping it generate cash

Some fans of Instagram worried what Facebook’s purchase in September of the photo-sharing service would bring.
Andrew Burton/Reuters
Some fans of Instagram worried what Facebook’s purchase in September of the photo-sharing service would bring.

SAN FRANCISCO — Instagram, the mobile photo-sharing service owned by Facebook, will remove language from its terms of service suggesting that users’ photos could appear in ads.

The language in question appeared in policies scheduled to take effect Jan. 16. After an outcry on social media and privacy rights blogs, the company said it has no plans to put users’ photos in advertisements.

That said, Instagram maintains it was created to become a business and aims to experiment with various forms of advertising to make money. Instagram does not currently run ads. The free service brings in no revenue.


‘‘Our main goal is to avoid things likes advertising banners you see in other apps that would hurt the Instagram user experience,’’ cofounder Kevin Systrom wrote in a blog.

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What riled users and privacy advocates was Instagram’s saying it may now receive payments from businesses to use its members’ photos, user name, and other data ‘‘in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation’’ to them.

Instagram did not offer many details at the time. Its blog post on Monday made no mention of ads or other commercial activities, though it offered links to the new privacy policy and terms of service. Those documents spell out what the service could do, but say little about actual plans.

Instead, Instagram merely said the changes will help its service ‘‘function more easily as part of Facebook by being able to share info between the two groups.’’ Facebook Inc. recently updated its privacy policy to allow for more integration with Instagram.

‘‘This means we can do things like fight spam more effectively, detect system and reliability problems more quickly, and build better features for everyone by understanding how Instagram is used,’’ the earlier blog post said.


Instagram’s new policy suggests Facebook wants to integrate Instagram into its ad-serving system.

‘‘These services are publicly advertised as ‘free,’ but the free label masks costs to privacy, which include the responsibility of monitoring how these companies sell data, and even how they change policies over time,’’ said Chris Hoofnagle, director of Information Privacy Programs at the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology.

The fast-growing service has become a popular way to share photos from cellphones. The Instagram app offers filters to give photos a retro feel or other look. Although many other apps also offer filters, they don’t offer the sharing features of Instagram.

Instagram has had a loyal following since before Facebook bought it. The purchase worried some of its earliest fans, who feared Facebook would swallow up their beloved community. Users must accept the new terms when they go into effect or leave Instagram.

Some Twitter users were vowing to cancel their Instagram accounts. They complained that the new terms would essentially let the service sell people’s photos for ads — something Instagram said Tuesday it does not plan to do.