Jeremy Pinnix, a 40-year-old app developer in Spring Hill, Tenn., has been a regular user of the photo-sharing service Instagram since it was introduced in 2010, posting pictures of his family, local scenery and favorite moments.
But when he learned this week about changes to the company’s terms of service that would apparently allow his photos to be used as advertisements, he didn’t hesitate. Pinnix deleted his account and has not looked back
“Many of the photos I take are of my wife and kids,” he said. “The idea that those could be used in ads without my consent is disconcerting.”
This has been a common sentiment on social networks this week as Instagram users react to the coming changes, part of a push by Facebook, which now owns Instagram, to make money from the service.
On Tuesday evening, the complaints prompted some action. Kevin Systrom, a co-founder of Instagram, wrote a blog post saying the company would change the new terms of service to make clearer what would happen to users’ pictures.
“We’ve heard loud and clear that many users are confused and upset about what the changes mean,” he wrote. “I’m writing this today to let you know we’re listening and to commit to you that we will be doing more to answer your questions, fix any mistakes, and eliminate the confusion.”
Eric Goldman, an associate professor at the Santa Clara University School of Law, said the latest skirmish between Facebook and its users was part of the sometimes uncomfortable dynamic between companies that offer free online services and their eventual need to turn a profit from them.
“The interest of the site is never 100 percent aligned with the users, and the divergence inevitably leads to friction,” said Goldman. “It’s unavoidable.”
When it announced the changes on Monday, Facebook provided few details on how it would integrate ads and photos, other than to say that when the changes went into effect on Jan. 16, they would not affect any photographs uploaded to the service before then.
That did not prevent unhappy users from threatening to take their portfolios of photographs over to rival services. Many, including Pinnix, eyed a return to Flickr, the former king of photo-sharing services, which is owned by Yahoo. In a stroke of lucky timing, Flickr recently released a new application for the iPhone.
Linus Ekenstam, who helped found a service called Copygram that lets people back up their Instagram accounts and order physical prints of their favorite snaps, said demand for the company’s free exporting tool had skyrocketed.
“It’s a thousand percent more activity than we’re used to,” he said. “Today is crazy.”
He estimated that roughly 15 people per minute were using the exporting tool, and around half a million photographs had been backed up.