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December 19, 2012

Instagram photo ownership blunder: expert reaction

CBR rounds up expert opinions on Instagram's recent change to user photo rights.

By Tineka Smith

The popular photo-sharing service received a backlash from its community of users after updating its terms of use to allow the company to own rights to uploaded photos through its service.

CBR takes a look at expert opinion on the issue of privacy when using free social media services.

James Lusher, social media specialist at Fishburn Hedges

"The Instagram service agreement outcry has once again reignited the ‘data/cost’ debate. It’s no secret that technology giants continuously look to stretch boundaries to stay ahead of the competition and offer users a fresh service. But the difficultly is in getting the balance between innovation and customer trust.

"As more and more companies, not just Facebook and Google, look to harness the benefits of mining ‘big data’, they need to be aware of the PR implications, and communicate how they intend to use this data transparently and responsibly.

"It’s clear that there is still much scepticism from consumers and uncertainty over the real cost of a ‘free’ social media service. However, the media shouldn’t simplistically accuse these companies. When used responsibly, data is an extremely powerful and beneficial asset to both brands and consumers; consumers just need to be able to locate the opt-out button."

Vanessa Barnett, technology and media lawyer at Charles Russell LLP told CBR

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"Instagram’s response to user comment has been swift and meaningful – they make it clear that users will keep owning their photos and they will not be sold to advertisers. The most interesting point about this clarification is this: if users had not reacted so badly, would the language have been changed, because it was presumably pored over by business and lawyers before being released?

"What this really shows us is that on the Internet, if a group of people is big enough, companies listen. But a wider issue in our society today remains: there’s no free lunch on the Internet and the modern currency is not pounds, shillings and pence but personal data. What matters, and what the law says, is that if you collect and use personal data, you need to be transparent about it. As long as we have transparency, we also have free will. And maybe over time what will happen is that users will react to monetising of their data by actively choose privacy and paid for services."

Julian Ranger, founder of SocialSafe told CBR

"Unfortunately too many companies don’t consider privacy from day one or make it a core principle when handling user data. You can have a viable business while respecting user privacy.

"New business models should allow users to share what they want and how they want while still respecting user privacy. Too many companies almost deliberately make it unclear because the aim is to make commercial gains by using user data.

"The important thing companies should be doing is to work out how to make a service you can make money from while protecting privacy and data."

Adam Leach, principal analyst at Ovum told CBR

"There’s been a sort of backtrack in terms of Instagram’s privacy changes. I think instagram felt there was an overreaction to put what they put forward.

"There were users that had even decided to quit the service, Even though Instagram tried to clarify their intent, I think what it shows is that they have to be more careful about how they change terms and conditions when introducing new policies that deal with people’s private data.

"As we know Facebook has a track record of changing privacy settings with either little or no real explanation to its users. Facebook offers many different services but the trouble with instagram is that it’s one single service that allows people to share photos. This makes it very easy for a user to turn and go onto another photo sharing service, whereas with Facebook it’s harder for people to use something different.

"Instagram has got to think more carefully about how its community of users will react especially if they can easily move to a different, similar service. However, users should understand if you’re using a free service there is an expectation that the company wants to monetise. Free services like Facebook or instagram are going to try and make money out of using their service."

Ivailo Jordanov, co-founder of secure family photo-sharing app

"The ‘Instagram suicide note’ trending on twitter isn’t far off the mark. We believe these new terms will see parents looking for an Instagram alternative sooner rather than later.

"Parents who continue to use Instagram to save photos of their children after January 16 could see their child’s face used to promote brands that they neither endorse or support.

"This has been a bit of a PR disaster for Instagram and while they are making strides to recover the trust of their users, this just goes to show how careful consumers need to be when using services to save and share photos online."

Kurt Opsahl, senior staff attorney, Electronic Frontier Foundation

"Some of these problems are less pressing if the photo is intended to be public, and some users may actually want the opportunity for their photos to get wide spread fame and fortune. For those users, the better way forward is enabling users to easily license their photos with Creative Commons.

"Other photo services offer revenue sharing with their users. For example. Yahoo’s Flickr not only offers the ability to mark photos with a Creative Commons license, but also has an opt-in program with Getty Images for users who want to commercialize the photos. While imperfect (Getty requires exclusive rights, and is incompatible with CC licenses), there is something to the notion of sharing the revenue with the user."

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