Last April, I wrote about how, for many fans of Instagram, the news that Facebook was acquiring the photo-sharing mobile platform for $1 billion is a little like hearing that your best friend is engaged to that jerk. She might be thrilled, but you can't help but feel a sense of doom about the whole arrangement.
Well, she married him anyway. And then, this week, we all sat here like the attendants at the wedding who had predicted that the marriage would be something of a train wreck and that they wouldn't be that fun to hang out with anymore.
"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."
In other words, a billion people create and share photos—and Instagram gets to sell images to advertisers without any cash to you or (worse!) acknowledgement. You might wonder whether this is really a big deal: Facebookagram is a business, not a soup kitchen, as has been pointed out elsewhere. We aren't paying for this service, so should we really care whether someone sells our photos of puppies and lattes and clouds? How ridiculous might this get?
MarketingProfs had some fun with the notion, and we created a series of fake ads that showed how this might play out in a fictitious #InstaAd network.
Why It Was a Big Deal
But it is a big deal, because the new Terms of Service went too far in stripping Instafans of any sense of control, real or imagined. It gave Facebookgram far too much leeway over how they might share user information—including photos, browser activity, and location data—with third-party advertisers.
In a sense, the platform went too far, period---instead of, for example, instituting a flickr-like model of giving its users some control or how their photos are used commercially and otherwise.
It was also a big deal because, at its heart, this change represented a clash of values. Where Facebook has a history that engenders distrust, Instagram has inspired affection. Where Facebook feels invasive to many, Instagram has created profound connection.
Instagram users had a sense of foreboding last spring that Facebook would screw up the magic somehow (see that marriage analogy, above). And this week, it did.
People went nuts. Facebookgram backpedaled. And Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom wrote a blog post saying, hey now, this was all a great big misunderstanding. He later clarified the terms.
"To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos," Systrom said. He also said that his main goal "is to avoid things likes advertising banners you see in other apps that would hurt the Instagram user experience."
(Wait, what? Suddenly, integrity is a concern!)
And then he added...
"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."
"We want to create meaningful ways to help you discover new and interesting accounts and content while building a self-sustaining business at the same time."
I don't know what that last part means. I'm guessing that, right now, neither does he.
Ann Handley is chief content officer of MarketingProfs, author of Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Ridiculously Good Content, and co-author of the best-selling book on content marketing, Content Rules. Ann co-founded ClickZ.com, one of the first sources of interactive marketing news and commentary.