Instagram Quietly Updates Terms of Service and Privacy Policy – Selling Your Photos Without Compensation

Instagram has notified users that it plans to cash in on the photos being uploaded to the service. Here’s what you need to know about your photos and data.

Monday, Instagram published a revised privacy policy and terms of service on its website. The new small print ushers imperative changes to how the popular photo sharing service will be handling the photos of its users, as well as how companies  it is a subsidiary of (Facebook) handle user-generated content. This all doesn’t go into effect until January 16, 2013.

User-uploaded Instagram photos are now for sale

Most noticeable among the changes is the second bullet in the rights of the company’s agreement. The gist of it is simple and easy to understand. Instagram will soon be cashing in on that “fully paid and royalty-free … worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service.” In other words, Instragram is selling the rights to Photos that users have uploaded to the service. Although users will still retain ownership, there will be no compensation for any of these transactions forwarded to users.

Of course Instagram is a free service, it still takes money to run the business and store the millions of photos being uploaded. Monetizing those photos as a stock photo agency was no doubt in the works which is why it was able to justify a One Billion dollar price tag in the Facebook acquisition.

The part that bothers me about this is how it affects people who may not even use the service. If someone snaps a picture of someone and then uploads it to Instgram – ding. That person is now in the system and his or her snapshot is available for use by any advertiser out there,without compensation or notice. This includes not just Instagram displayed ads, but also on Facebook — all with no model release as is standard practice for sites like or

Directly from the Instagram terms of service:


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.

Instagram will not always inform users that an ad is really an ad

Appearing in a paid ad isn’t such a bad thing is it? Well what if it isn’t designated as such, and rather appears to be a personal endorsement by someone appearing in a photo? The new Terms of Service outline that Instagram will not “always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such.”

While there are still quite a few legal issues with Instagram selling photos snapped of non-users by someone with the app, just imagine how someone might react seeing an in-app advertisement featuring their grandfather or someone else who doesn’t even own a smartphone.


Instagram collects and shares as much information about users as possible, with Facebook and some third-parties

Another issue is the amount of data which could be pulled from photos and users when using the service. Things like, the type of phone or tablet the person using. When and where the photo was taken from (GPS coordinates). The person’s phone number, email, first name, last name, IP address, and information from other third-party accounts the user may have connected to before accessing the service. ALL this data could be collected and stored by Instagram from both cookies and meta data from the photos using tracking cookies Instagram allows itself and advertisers to place through its service into user’s browser and cookie-capable software.

Once collected, this information is shared directly with Facebook and its “Service Providers”, and then some of it is also sold to third-parties. Instagram does pledge to anonymize some user identifying information before passing it on to third parties. Are you feeling warm and fuzzy yet?

 Someone is under 18? We’ll just assume there is parental approval

Rather than ensure minors aren’t using the service without permission, the new Instagram ToS states that it will just assume anyone between 13 and 18 has parental permission. As stated ” If you are under the age of eighteen (18), or under any other applicable age of majority, you represent that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to this provision (and the use of your name, likeness, username, and/or photos (along with any associated metadata)) on your behalf.” It also assumes that these users are over 13 and not using a fabricated age while signing up for the service.

Don’t like it? Opt out. But, deleting your account is the only way.

If you’re not happy with the new terms, unfortunately you will need to delete your account as there is no opt-out process. If a user has a legal dispute and wants to take it to court, sorry, there is an arbitration clause added to the terms of service that has already set a precedent in court which was upheld.

It’s not necessarily all bad

Overall, Instagram isn’t some evil autonomous privacy destroyer. It’s a company trying to make money which means it needs a business plan for running a free service while at the same time paying for bandwidth and online storage for millions of users. Nothing is free — we’ve already went over this many, manytimes. The key is staying educated when using these free online services and remembering that by uploading your content to them, you are almost always giving them the right to use that content in exchange for using the service. In the case of Instagram, the good news is the do have some privacy controls that allow you to keep certain photos private. But, it doesn’t care about you, me, or anyone else. It’s all about the bottom-line and how much money it can squeeze out of advertisers by giving them what they want – your data and (maybe some) photos. Worth it? That’s up to you to decide.

If you have Facebook join us in discussing this there, or here in the comment section on groovyPost below.



  1. Matthew R. Miller

    December 18, 2012 at 11:23 am

    Photore backs up your Instagram photos in high quality form to your hard drive. It takes minutes to leave the service:

    • Steve Krause

      December 18, 2012 at 12:35 pm

      Thanks for the FYI. Good find.


  2. Brian Burgess

    December 18, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    Bogdan also has an article up on how to download all of your photos from Instagram too —

  3. Josh Windisch

    December 18, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    Well, they pretty much back peddled on a lot of that stuff at I’m not sure if there’s actually more to be concerned about here than you would be with Facebook or Twitter, who already are doing some VERY invasive things for ads.

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