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Instagram: how do you like our 'evil' filter?

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All your photos belong to Instagram
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When Facebook bought Instagram, many people were worried. "You know what Instagram was missing?" one user tweeted: "Ads and privacy invasions."

It looks like the cynics were right. From January, Instagram has new terms and conditions - and they're amazing. I've never seen a firm express utter contempt for its users in such blatant terms.

Bear in mind that Instagram's owned by Facebook now. Is it saying what Facebook's thinking?

Instagram's terrible T&Cs

There are two bits of legalese that are just astonishing.

Here's number one:

"To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata) and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you."

Translation: a business can run an ad using your images, username, location or any other data, and Instagram won't ask your permission, let alone pay you.

And here's number two:

"You acknowledge that we may not always identify paid services, sponsored content or commercial communications as such."

Translation: Ads might not be identified as ads.

Taken together, that means your photos could be used to promote things you despise, and in such a way that it looks like you're a big fan of those things.

According to Instagram, this is all to, er, fight spam.

Some of the publicity over this has focused on the money, the idea that Instagram can now sell people's photos. I don't think that's the issue here, because let's face it, the likelihood of Instagram selling a picture of your dinner for megabucks is pretty slim.

What's at issue here is more fundamental: it's about how Instagram sees you, and how it sees everybody. Whether by accident or design, the new T&Cs say that when you upload things, they can be used to misrepresent you and mislead others. That goes way beyond using advertising to pay the bandwidth bills. It's seeing users as suckers.

If Instagram doesn't change its T&Cs, you should change your photo service.


Former lion tamer, Girls Aloud backing dancer and habitual liar Carrie Marshall (Twitter, Google+) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to .net, MacFormat, Tap! and Official Windows Magazine as well as co-writing stacks of how-to tech books. "My job is to cut through the crap," she says. "And there's a lot of crap."