The founders of Instagram were approached by Facebook in early 2012 regarding an offer to buy the then newly created company. The price offered: $1 billion. It took a while, but in September 2012, just before Facebook went public, the sale was finalized in the amount of $750 million. Instagram’s founders and its few employees couldn’t be happier about this deal, but did they realize that it was about to become a privacy fiasco for the thousands of people who had photos posted to the site? Shortly after the acquisition, a new policy was put into place that says Facebook has the right to sell any or all of the 5 billion-plus photos that were posted on Instagram’s site.
Just 3 months after Intstagram’s purchase by Facebook, on January 16, 2013, a new policy regarding photos was put in place. Starting on that date, Facebook has the right to sell any photo that was posted on Instagram without paying, or even notifying, the users who posted those photos. If you read the updated policy and deleted your Instagram account before January 16th, this was the only way you could have stopped the sale of your photos. However, if you didn’t read the update and your account with Instagram was still active as of that date, you are in danger of your photos being sold. Instagram users certainly weren’t happy about this detail.
What all this means is that if you use Instagram to post photos and did not delete your account before January 16, 2012, you could be facing a huge privacy concern. Any photos that you posted on Instagram after the effective policy date can be sold to any advertiser and used in any way. You could be on your way to work or school one morning and see a photo of you and your friends partying at a local bar up on a billboard advertising that bar. Or maybe the billboard is for a beach resort that you visited and the photo is of you lying on the beach in a very skimpy bikini. Another possibility is that you could be skimming through a magazine in your dentist’s waiting room and see a print ad featuring you and your friends standing in front of the newest casino. Would you be shocked at any of this? Would you be even more shocked to know that everyone involved with creating this ad, except you, will be making money off of your images? Does this sound like a good deal?
The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) has taken notice of this new policy. “It’s asking people to agree to unspecified future commercial use of their photos. That makes it challenging for someone to give informed consent to that deal.” That was a statement issued by Kurt Opsahl, Senior Staff Attorney for the EFF.
Since it is unspecified what types of photos can be sold and used, the policy leaves an endless amount of possibilities. Any type of business, hotel chains, cruise lines, airlines, bars, restaurants, etc., can purchase your Instagram photos from Facebook without asking you for consent. Your photos can be used in brochures, television commercials, print and Internet ads…any kind of advertisement that the purchaser sees fit. And because there is no limit on the types of photos used, your kids can be in danger. One day, you may see a billboard of your kids running around on a beach used to advertise the kid-friendly resort you visited last summer.
If you want to avoid all this but didn’t delete your Instagram account before January 16, 2013, you can still delete your account to regain some control over your privacy. However, keep in mind that any pictures you posted to Instagram after January 16th up to the date your account was deleted can still be sold since there is no language in the new policy that protects those photos.