Instagram caught on candid camera

Your sepia-toned smartphone pix are safe for now, but don't be surprised if Instagram and Facebook redefine 'sharing' -- again

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It's particularly strange Instagram even tried to do this, given the fact that a) it's now part of Facebook, and b) Facebook just got slapped by a federal court for using people's faces in ads without compensation or permission.

As the Internet descended upon Instagram's doorstep with torches and pitchforks, co-founder Kevin Systrom bid an insta-retreat, issuing the following clarification:

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.

To provide context, we envision a future where both users and brands alike may promote their photos & accounts to increase engagement and to build a more meaningful following. Let's say a business wanted to promote their account to gain more followers and Instagram was able to feature them in some way. In order to help make a more relevant and useful promotion, it would be helpful to see which of the people you follow also follow this business. 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.

So your photos won't be used in ads, but they might be displayed right next to ads. Everybody OK with that?

Even if Instagram didn't intend to really sell people's photos to advertisers, despite legal language suggesting just that, it still managed to create a pileup of epic proportions. As my cyber lawyer buddy Bennet Kelley of the Internet Law Center told me recently, "When people are talking about your terms of service in public, that's never a good thing."

Of course, Instagram is free, so clearly people are paying for it with something, whether it's their photos or their data. Doesn't that mean Instagram gets to do whatever it wants with them?

In a wonderfully clear and coherent essay, Internet entrepreneur Derek Powazek lays waste to the myth that getting stuff for free from a company (like a photo sharing service) means they get to do whatever they please with your stuff, or that paying a company for services you use automatically means they treat you better. He writes:

Just because you pay doesn't mean you're not the product. Cable TV companies take our money and sell us to the channels, magazines take our money and still sell ads, banks and credit cards charge us money for the service of having our money....In the real world, we routinely become "the product" even when we're already paying....

What's inherently wrong is a company changing its terms of service to screw their users. What's wrong is a company that sells your data without your consent. What's wrong is a company that scales back customer service to save a buck, leaving its customers angry and frustrated....

What matters is how companies demonstrate their respect for their customers. We should hold their feet to the fire when they demonstrate a lack of respect.

Whether Instagram -- and really, Facebook -- truly respect their customers remains to be seen. But we've certainly managed to get their insta-attention.

Would you still share photos on Instagram? Share your thoughts below or email me:

This article, "Instagram caught on candid camera," was originally published at Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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