Instagram's New TOS: On Data, Privacy and Fine Print

BlogHer Original Post

Instagram has it’s issues, but for the most part it is all based on a users trusting one another often with their most intimate moments. They welcome them other users their homes, to their celebrations and their sorrows. Amidst daily outfit posts and food styled to the nth degree, there are births and breakups, school plays and weddings. No one adds a filter to these moments with the intent to have them used without their permission. And now, Instagram is asking permission to profit on it.

The number of users making plans to go elsewhere led them to respond rather quickly. On Monday, I tweeted several times that Copygram makes it very easy to download a zip file of all of your Instagrams. Yesterday, The New York Times wrote that Copygram “estimated that 10,000 people were using the exporting tool, and 1.5 million photographs had been backed up.” In a day that was huge for Copygram and other download sites, but the article reminds us that Instagram has over 100 million users.

Maybe this comes at a turning point in social media. Perhaps Instagram underestimates the intelligence of its users. In the next 30 days, we’ll see how much changes.

Many people (myself included) are more than willing to pay a monthly fee for an ad-free Instagram or have banner ads. I wonder if the amount of money they could make with subscribers or banner ads isn’t as enticing as the potential for what our data can bring them.

When Facebook purchased Instagram, I couldn’t understand the price tag. I hadn’t considered the value in it. What we’re eating, what we’re wishing we could buy, what color is on our nails, what shoes are on our feet, where we’re vacationing - Instagram is place where we share what we like. Data mining, Facebook’s greatest resource, is all about figuring out what we like. Valuable, yes. Maybe priceless.

Is data mining bad? Not inherently. Is it all good? I don’t think so, as I explained when I wrote about filter bubbles and tailored searches. We need opt outs.

I think many with public accounts didn’t consider the level of private they share publicly until Monday. As I wrote in May, photos of their kids in the bath or their grandmother’s funeral aren’t things they’d make a hundred thousand copies of at Costco and hand out to strangers, but virtually they do. When it becomes possible that those moments could be seen as assets, emotions run high.

People argue whether it’s right that these things can be monetized, but no one is forcing anyone to share this way. Yet people struggle because we like the filters and we like the followers. Both do things cognitively that makes us happy.

Online we justify so many things that we never would in real life. The speed at which social media moves has us so excited to test and try, to not feel left out or worse, out of touch, so we click and agree with abandon. Maybe Facebook has overstepped so much that we now need to pull away while we seek to find out how much of ourselves we’re willing to offer in exchange for pretty little pictures.

The homepage of Facebook says, “Sign up. It’s free and always will be.” Free, it seems, is a relative term. The issue isn’t all black and white, but we can’t put a pretty filter on it and expect it to be fixed either.

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