Instagram No Longer Picture Perfect

If you visited Facebook today, you most likely saw at least a few friends post with utter exasperation about how they’re ditching Instagram immediately because it plans to sell personal pictures of their grandmothers making Christmas cookies to adult diaper companies. The outrage! Grab your torch and pitchfork, people–we hear Instagram is hiding at the McCoy’s house.

An alternative scenario: we could all take a deep breath and figure out what is really going on here. As usual, the truth is somewhere in the middle: Instagram does indeed have the right to use and copy your photographs, but it does not have the license to manipulate or place your content into a context that expressly endorses anything beyond your original expression.

So, those Instagram pictures of you and your girlfriend in Tijuana can’t be used—directly—in any Jose Cuervo ads. Might they appear near Jose Cuervo ads? Perhaps. But if you think you’ve seen this endorsement-by-association tactic before, you’re right: You’ve seen it on Facebook, which recently acquired Instagram for nearly $1 billion.

On Facebook, when you “Like” the band Temper Trap, the Soda Stream Machine, or the film Argo, you are making a conscious decision to tell others how you feel about particular people, products and things in life. Facebook plans to profit from your endorsements by selling them to advertisers who package and push them as “Sponsored Posts” to prospective customers within Facebook’s vast social network. This, of course, weirds people out because, although Facebook is simply promulgating established user sentiments, it is doing so when and—on a limited basis—how it wants to.

Either way, the public has a big decision to make: Are we cool with this or not? Let’s think it through.

Remember: Facebook is a for-profit business. When Facebook went public it faced a firestorm of criticism as detractors everywhere claimed the company had no way to monetize its revolutionary social media platform. Well, now we all know that Facebook does indeed have a strategy to monetize its product. Nothing in life, or capitalism, is for free, and this is the business deal that Facebook and Instagram are proposing to its members (a group that includes most inhabitants of the known world). So, yes, this is a big deal.

The public is understandably sensitive to matters of privacy–many will opt out of Instagram and perhaps even Facebook. This is a free-market decision, and many might even claim that Facebook and Instagram are exploiting our existing intellectual property and copyright laws by exploiting their own unprecedented access to our private lives (which we choose to post on the Internet). With luck, some of those who object might even be famous!

Nevertheless, a deal is a deal. When we click and “agree” to the proposed terms of Facebook or Instagram—and honestly, we’re guessing few users read these contracts in their entirety—we are granting access to what may be our most treasured memories in life (or some random pictures a “friend” took after we’d had a few too many). Some say we’re giving up something more valuable than money. How valuable? That’s for us to decide.

In the meantime, you should put down the torch and pitchfork, because Instagram isn’t hiding at the McCoy’s house. It’s hiding in your house. You let it in, remember?