Have you heard the news? Instagram just updated its terms of service, and is giving itself permission to sell the photos you take to advertisers. Lots of users are weeping, threatening to quit, and screaming about privacy.
Counterpoint: shut up.
The controversy can be pinned down to a few sentences of legalese that Instagram (or more properly, its corporate masters at Facebook) inserted. Let’s read it together:
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.
This means that Instagram can sell the pictures you take of pineapple upside down cake, latte swirls, and your dumb dog, if some company wants to pay for these photos. They can then do whatever the hell they want with them, including putting the photos in advertisements for shoes or cars or whatever.
This prospect is so outrageous to some people that they’re fed up with the program, which costs zero pounds to download and zero pounds to use, and are going to take their non-money elsewhere:
What none of these hair-pulling photo-sharing apocalypse-moaners neglect to mention is that Instagram’s a business. A business that charges nothing for something that millions of people use constantly. In that sense, it’s a crazy business. It’s also a business that Facebook bought for one billion dollars. Facebook isn’t the World Wildlife Fund or a soup kitchen—it’s also a business, and one with very angry shareholders who expect to see a return on Facebook’s insanely insane purchase. Ergo, Instagram needs to start making money.
So it has three options.
Instagram can charge you to download it, in which case, nobody will download it anymore.
Instagram can charge you a subscription to use it, in which case everyone who has downloaded it will stop using it.
Or, Instagram can figure out a way to license the throwaway pictures you capture with 90 seconds of mental activity throughout the day, because it’s not a photographic non-profit, and needs some way of keeping its meager staff of ten people from being evicted.
But there’s a larger point to be made here. You shouldn’t care about these pictures to begin with.
Instagram’s charm is ephemeral. We’re given a peek at someone else’s life, maybe we comment on it, and then we move on to (or wait for) the next one. Odds are we’re too busy looking for one to share ourselves—point being that these “creations,” interesting only because pre-programmed filters have been applied to them, are paper airplanes thrown into a void. This chronic chronicling of our most mundane surroundings are what’s at stake here—what Instagram is daring to rip from us and sell to Dove or Kellogg or whomever the hell. You’d think that Facebook was preparing to upload family photo albums off of your laptop, or sell your genome sequence—but odds are, you don’t even remember taking the photos in question here.
Think, for a moment, what the worst case scenario is. Does a picture of your feet wind up in a banner ad for skin moisturizer? Is that sepia picture of your girlfriend drinking a milkshake used to promote frozen yogurt? Is your dog a kibble mascot? What, exactly, has been violated here? These were pictures that you permitted the world to look at to begin with! If anything you Instagrammed were so sacred, you wouldn’t have put it on Instagram.
But why should companies be able to profit from my work? What about my copyri—No. You’re probably not a professional photographer, and if you are, you aren’t putting your professional portfolio on Instagram. What you probably are is one of Instagram’s million users who have been getting daily gratification for something that costs zero dollars. Zero. Can you think of a single other activity in your life that’s both enjoyable and free? The Internet costs you money, your Netflix subscription comes with a fee, the books you pick up or download all have price tags. But Instagram has always been gratis, and you’ve taken this so far for granted that you feel entitled to a free ride on the filter train for the rest of your snapping life. The notion that a company should figure out some way to make money in order to not destroy itself doesn’t compute. And if it really does drive you that bonkers, by all means, stop using the free thing that you love that’s been given to you without requiring the slightest exertion on your part. Use something else.
That won’t make the new terms of service ring with any less perfect sense, because that’s the way things work in a free market economy, and have for several hundred years. So on the infinitesimal chance that a photo you Instagrammed winds up in an ad from out of the unfathomably large galaxy of pictures, don’t consider yourself violated. Don’t think you’ve been whored out. Realize that you’re finally paying the price of admission for a seat you took years ago. And maybe be flattered that your life is visually interesting enough to consider whoring out to begin with.