Don't Freak Out: Your Instagram Photos Are Not That Important

This week, popular photo sharing tool Instagram announced new policy changes and users immediately threatened to quit before learning that no, Instagram will not sell photos of their Sunday brunches and sleeping cats

After Instagram announced new policy changes people freaked out. And I mean Freaked. Out. The company’s original wording read like this: “You hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the content that you post on or through the service.”

Which many people interpreted as: “We can and will sell your photos to advertisers without telling you or compensating you.” Suddenly cat owners everywhere were worried that their beloved Mr. Whiskers was going to randomly show up on a billboard in downtown L.A. Don't worry: He will not.

Since the original changes and the aforementioned backlash, Instagram has come out to say directly that it will not be selling your photos to advertisers.
Instead, Instagram would like to “experiment with innovative advertising,” which probably means that sponsored or promoted photos will show up in your photo feed when the policy changes take effect on January 16th.

It’s not your images that Instagram finds so interesting. The company’s developers and potential advertisers are after your metadata: who you follow, who follows you and the locations you frequently geotag to your photos. This information allows advertisers to make tailored suggestions for new (paid) accounts for you to follow and add (paid) promoted photos to your feed.

The policy changes mean that the company is going to start making money by venturing into a new advertising business that reflects the current strategy of its owner, Facebook. Twitter, Tumblr and Foursquare already do the same thing. Ever seen a promoted tweet and suggested Tumblrs to follow? That’s advertising.

In short, Instagram cannot sell your photos without your permission. I REPEAT: Instagram cannot sell your photos. The policy changes merely mean that promoted or sponsored photos will soon show up in your feed a la Facebook and other mediums.

If you’re going to quit Instagram because of this new policy, you might as quit, well, the whole Internet. Because while we’re on the topic of privacy and Instagram, it’s important to note that while you maintain a variety of ownership rights of what you post, the details dramatically change depending on the platform you’re using.

Any time you post something to a social media platform, such as a photo to Twitter or Instagram, or give your personal information to Facebook or Pinterest, you are essentially screaming, “Hey world! Here is my information and here are my words and here are my photos -- have fun!”

When you sign up for free social networks you are automatically accepting that the network has certain rights over the content that you upload. Can you recall the last time you actually read a site’s terms of agreement before checking the box? Neither can I. So in the future, before making rash statements about social media companies changing their terms of agreement (like I did), they probably already have a certain amount of ownership over you that you didn’t already know about or tried to ignore.

And to be frank, your photos aren’t that cute. Mine aren’t either! If someone wants to purchase a photo of my cat or my selfies -- great! But they will not. (You should, however, follow me on Instagram anyway because I have pretty nails and cute cats and buy lots of shoes.)

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