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Facebook's latest facepalm

by David MacQueen | Dec 19, 2012

Instagram (owned by Facebook) created its own little PR disaster this week. It added these words to its new terms and conditions:
"You hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the content that you post on or through the service ... a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos, and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you."

The company has now changed this part following a backlash from users, and said in its blog that "it is not our intention to sell your photos". I'm not so sure that their defence of "Legal documents are easy to misinterpret" rings true - the language used initially seemed very clear. This smacks of an attempt to change the terms and conditions which subsequently misfired and Instagram/Facebook had to back down pretty quickly.

Now that the terms and conditions have been changed to something rather more reasonable, it seems this little storm will blow over. However, since the acquisition of Instagram, this type of change to terms and conditions was always on the cards. Based on what has happened previously, a vocal minority of users will disagree and some will end their existing accounts, but so far none of the changes to Facebook’s T&Cs have significantly impacted its growth, and the overall short term impact is likely to be minimal, especially since the company backed down (for now).

However, in the longer term, this does add to the regulatory concerns that many government agencies globally have with Facebook and others (including Google). Will Facebook try and change the terms and conditions again in a year’s time? What about public photos on Instagram or Facebook, which anyone can access? The person uploading the photo has agreed to the terms and conditions, but that doesn’t mean that every person featured in a photograph has – what about their privacy? In the short term, I expect little impact. Whatever impact there is, is likely to be longer term and could be quite significant. Years are more the timescales that regulators work to. Facebook can afford to ignore the moaning bloggers, but can it afford to continue to ignore regulators?

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