The very massive backlash to Instagram's new Terms of Service agreement that suggested it might sell its users' photos as ads without compensation has forced the photo-sharing app, less than 24 hours later, to take a big — if not complete — step back with a statement released by the company Tuesday afternoon. The post on Instagram's official blog, written by Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom, is titled "Thank you, and we're listening":
Our intention in updating the terms was to communicate that we’d like to experiment with innovative advertising that feels appropriate on Instagram. Instead it was interpreted by many that we were going to sell your photos to others without any compensation. This is not true and it is our mistake that this language is confusing. To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos.
While that little part might calm some of the thousands of angry photo-uploaders, the rest of the statement contains some less relieving parts. First of all Instagram reiterates the following: "From the start, Instagram was created to become a business," writes CEO Kevin Systrom. That's right: Instagram will find a way to make money off you people who pay nothing to use the service. Now, of course, and as we learned even before the new ToS policy was announced, that business model might not come in the form of ads. "Advertising is one of many ways that Instagram can become a self-sustaining business, but not the only one," writes Systrom. Which is a problem, considering how plush the user-friendly Instagram platform is right now — and how unsustainable that is for a company that has now insisted publicly wants to make money. (No doubt Facebook wants to make its investment a worth one.) The future of Instagram could come in the form of a paid subscription service, as The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal suggested. Or maybe something more pernicious than what Instagram proposed earlier this week.
We will have to wait until a new Terms of Service gets drafted over the next couple weeks. Systrom claims the company will take into account blog posts and other reactions while creating a new version. So maybe we'll see a subscription model after all, or the "so good you won't notice" ads that Buzzfeed's Matt Buchanan proposes. Then again, things could turn out uglier than that. The original terms were supposed to go into effect January 16, so we expect to see something new before then. Good luck not upsetting those fickle, spoiled masses, Instagram.