Amid uproar, Instagram says it will not sell users' photos

Instagram admitted that its new privacy policy and terms of service were 'confusing'

Instagram vowed on Tuesday to revise new proposed terms of service following a strong backlash from users worried that it would use their photos in advertisements without their permission.

The Facebook-owned photo sharing and editing service introduced a new privacy policy and terms of service on Monday. The terms of service, due to take effect on Jan. 16, appear to give Instagram the leeway to sell advertisements that incorporate a person's username, likeness and photos, among other things.

The new terms of service, published on Monday for public review, caused an immediate uproar from users, many of whom publicly said they would quit Instagram. The conflict highlighted ongoing concerns over how social-networking companies handle their users' personal data. Facebook, which has frequently faced privacy-related criticisms, announced in April that it would acquire Instagram for US$1 billion in cash and stock.

Kevin Systrom, co-founder of Instagram, wrote on Instagram's blog that the company had intended "to communicate that we'd like to experiment with innovative advertising that feels appropriate on Instagram. Instead, it was interpreted by many that we were going to sell your photos to others without any compensation.

"This is not true and it is our mistake that this language is confusing," Systrom wrote. "To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos. We are working on updated language in the terms to make sure this is clear."

Systrom wrote that Instagram has no intention of using photos within advertisements. "We do not have plans for anything like this, and because of that, we're going to remove the language that raised the question."

He reasserted that Instagram's users own their content and the company does not claim ownership rights over photos. Users may still shield their photos from public view by setting the content to "private," which only allows viewing by approved followers, he wrote.

"We need to be clear about the changes we make -- this is our responsibility to you," Systrom wrote.

Systrom wrote that Instagram does envision meshing the service's users with brands. "In this way, some of the data you produce -- like the actions you take (eg, following the account) and your profile photo -- might show up if you are following this business," Systrom wrote.

Instagram's owner, Facebook, faced fierce criticism in 2011 when it introduced the "Sponsored Stories" feature, which showed a user's profile photo near an advertisement if the user had "liked" the brand. Facebook did not ask for users' consent.

Following the Sponsored Stories debacle, Facebook was hit with a class-action suit brought on behalf of 125 million[m] users, which it chose to settle. The estimated $20 million settlement, which has been preliminarily approved by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, is scheduled for another court evaluation called a fairness hearing in June.

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

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Jeremy Kirk

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