Last updated: December 21, 2012 2:30 am

Instagram retreats on terms of service

Instagram has stepped back from a controversial clause in its new terms of service that gave the Facebook-owned photo app broad rights to use consumers’ data for advertising.

The partial retreat comes after a number of Instagram users, including celebrities such as singer Pink, deleted their accounts in protest at the proposed changes, which were due to come into effect in January.

However, in a post to the Instagram blog, founder Kevin Systrom said that the company planned to make further policy changes in the future when its advertising plans were more fully developed.

Privacy activists such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation had urged Instagram, which was acquired by Facebook for $730m just a few months ago, to reconsider the changes, from which users could not opt out without leaving the service.

For the first time since Monday’s changes provoked widespread outcry, Mr Systrom on Thursday apologised for failing to “communicate our intentions clearly”, saying that it had created “confusion and real concern about what our possible advertising products could look like and how they would work”.

“Because of the feedback we have heard from you, we are reverting this advertising section to the original version that has been in effect since we launched the service in October 2010,” he wrote.

“Going forward, rather than obtain permission from you to introduce possible advertising products we have not yet developed, we are going to take the time to complete our plans, and then come back to our users and explain how we would like for our advertising business to work.”

Mr Systrom sought to reassure Instagram users that it had “no intention of selling your photos”.

Instagram has also quietly removed a proposed passage from its terms that would have obtained the implicit agreement of parents of minors for the commercial use of images and other data uploaded by their children.

“If you are under the age of 18 . . . you represent that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to this provision . . . on your behalf,” the passage had read. Instagram is particularly popular among teenagers.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center said that the proposed terms had raised “legal questions”.

“Instagram’s parent company, Facebook, is under a 2011 consent order with the Federal Trade Commission that prohibits the company from changing privacy settings without the affirmative consent of users or misrepresenting the privacy or security of users’ personal information,” Epic said earlier this week. “Using an individual’s name or likeness for commercial purposes without consent is also prohibited in most states.”

However, other observers have pointed out that Instagram’s revisions, as originally put forward, were little different to those adopted by other social networks, including Facebook and Twitter.

Instagram’s original terms from 2010 had already secured its users’ permission to place advertising and promotions “on, about, or in conjunction with” their photos, the extent of which is “subject to change without specific notice” to users.

Parker Higgins, an activist with EFF, said that Instagram’s latest policy “seems a little better” but fell short of absolute commitments around how it would use customers’ data in future.

“This new approach of figuring out what it is you want to do then approaching your users with that plan sounds like that is liable to work better,” Mr Parker told the FT.

“The backlash that Instagram saw this week has cemented the idea that you don’t want to be a social network that people don’t trust with their data. That’s the Facebook lesson. [Users] might not leave but it doesn’t bode well in the long term.”

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