You’re not the Customer

Instagram Logo

The internet exploded in the last couple of days when the social square-photo sharing service Instagram released new terms of use. Apparently calling them “terms of service” would not be far too mainstream. The terms include the following paragraph:

Some or all of the Service may be supported by advertising revenue. 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.

First of all, let’s give credit where credit is due. Most online services would have buried this on page 30 of a document that could only be interpreted by a lawyer, Their terms of use all fit on one page, and are easy to read.

It’s a bit disconcerting to know that the photos you may have taken of your children could potentially be used in an advertisement for a company, but it’s time we realize that when using a free service, we are not the customer, but the product, and the sustainability of that company depends on their ability to monetize their product. You are their product. It’s not even your photos that they care about. Instagram is banking on the fact that you will eventually have such a library of photos uploaded, that you won’t bother to leave. Your story is their product. Your location at any given moment is their product. Your changing interests and how your friends react to those interests is their product.

We’re getting far too used to getting things for free, and pretending we’re owed something in return. If you want to use an online service to host your digital content, find one that allows you to pay a fee and have a stake in their success. I’ve paid yearly for Flickr since it launched, and though there have been years that I have not been thrilled with the investment, I’ve been in a position to complain, and I’ve never needed to worry about my content. This change from Instagram could not have come at a better time for the pioneer in the market, who has recently launched a great new iPhone app, and under new leadership, seems to have righted a listing ship.

The storm caused on Twitter was the effect of people realizing that Instagram, like most other free online services is not looking out for them. By making a free services a staple in your life, you’ve divested interest in something important to you.

But you can buy it back. It’s not expensive.


It didn’t take long for the PR people at Instagram to take notice of the social media hate-fest, and (if the rage-quitters were telling the truth) people cancelling their accounts. They posted on their blog clarifying their intentions, and promising to update their terms of use. This likely won’t change any of their plans, but they will certainly tread lightly in the future with respect to privacy and the use of uploaded content.

Although the rage-meter was way to high on this issue from the start, I think a lot of people have learned from the resulting discussion. Free is not always the way to go.