Around 1 or 2 in the afternoon yesterday, I wanted to post an open question to my readers about their thoughts on the new Instagram terms (see: Instagram ~scandal). But I didn’t, because I knew there was more to the story. And I’m glad I waited.
When I came home from my work’s holiday party, I had this little article sitting on my Facebook news feed. Like I predicted, there was a miscommunication in the release of the new terms. No, Instagram can’t (legally) sell your content to anyone without your permission. Whether you consider your lovely filtered and square-cropped photo under your personal artistic license or not (I do), under the new terms of service, Instagram cannot manipulate your image or sell it to anyone without your permission*.
What it can do, as I learned from Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom’s statement posted later yesterday afternoon, is collect data from your usage of the app and use the information to advertise. This means (from what I understand*) that if I like American Eagle and maybe interact with them on Instagram by posting a photo wearing their jeans, Instagram can allow American Eagle to promote my photo to other users–likely my friends–so that they can check out the brand and maybe like it//buy it too. To me, this is not only what Facebook, last.fm, Amazon, Google, etc. are already doing, but is a smart business move on the part of Instagram.
The reason I bring all of this up in the first place is a talk about language. Systrom clearly didn’t expect the uproar that occurred when his new terms of service were released. Even though the Instagram notice about the change in terms urged users to read the updated agreement, he obviously didn’t anticipate the backlash and misunderstanding that struck the Internet afterward. Systrom said himself in his statement that “…it is our mistake that this language is confusing…We are working on updated language in the terms…” Language is a crucial part of communication. Without the accurate wording of their updated terms, Instagram found itself in a scandal that a lot of its users won’t bother to follow up on, meaning the brand will likely lose a chunk of its users and therefore its audience. If you don’t say it right the first time, you may not have another opportunity to say it to anyone at all.
Choose your words wisely and say what you mean. Be upfront. Simple words are not stupid words and there is rarely a good excuse to use a 25 cent word over a 5 cent word, especially when your audience varies in background and demographic. This doesn’t just apply to politicians and corporations, this is relevant to anyone who communicates ever.
*Until the terms are rewritten to reflect their true meaning, I can only assume things based on the spelled-out, unofficial, claims made in related articles floating around. I am probably adding to the mess of telephone-like misconstrued language, but I think it is nonetheless important to join the conversation and be up-to-date and educated about the technologies I use. I really like Instagram and I don’t intend to delete, especially if the terms are as I now believe them to be, which is ethical and harmless.
What are your thoughts on the new terms? Will you be deleting your Instagram account come January?