Those who follow my writing know that I’m a skeptical, cynical conspiracy theorist who thinks that governments, companies, and entities we don’t even know about are all out to get us. I promote privacy, transparency, security, and an open internet free of nearly all forms of censorship. I believe that most online companies, particularly those associated with social media, will at some point show their true colors and try to use our data and content for profit in one way or another. I call out companies that do this and I try to warn people of the potential evils that can take over actions with even the best of intentions.
What Instagram did yesterday does not qualify in my book as a major problem worth noting. It’s just not the big deal that every tech blogger in the world seemed to lash out against.
You have Mat Honan at Wired quitting Instagram, Christina Warren at Mashable asking if this is their Netflix moment, and National Geographic ceasing activity. In my research, only a handful of journalists saw this for what it really was. As Nilay Patel at The Verge points out, no, they can’t sell your photos.
The backlash was more harsh than it needed to be. Instagram is a business. They need to position themselves to grow and turn their service into something that can generate profit. Facebook didn’t spend a billion dollars on them to continue bleeding cash. They have to perform. The terms of service changes opened up opportunities for them to utilize the content that people post. That’s all. It’s not like they’re taking private photos and displaying them to the world. They want to take the images that users posted for the world to see and expose them to more of the world for the benefit of the company and the user. There’s nothing wrong with this.
One would think they were going to sell user data. That’s something that would be alarming. Even if they didn’t sell it directly, giving access to the data would have been bad. Instead, they simply wanted to utilize the public content that users want other people to see to display it for mutual benefit. There’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone jumped for no reason.
The thing that makes me most annoyed is that this was blown up by journalists, not public outcry. Journalists should have interpreted this properly rather than sensationalize it the way that so many of them did. Instagram fell victim to a massive overreaction that was fueled by journalists who want to point to how evil companies become.
If you’re a user, look at your photos. Is there anything there that you would not want other people to see? If so, why did you post it?
Then, ask yourself if you were going to sell it. Were you going to make money off of your photos? If not, why would you be upset that a free service that lets you use its technology and server space might make a little money off of your content? Keep in mind – you posted it because you wanted people to see it. Instagram would only be able to make money off of your images if they enhanced the exposure beyond your current set of friends and followers. Why would this get so many people upset?
The answers are easy. It’s a combination of several things that came together to form the perfect storm of outrage against a company that hasn’t really done much wrong since their formation:
- Society has trained us to not want others to make money off of our efforts even if we weren’t going to make money from it.
- The government, journalists, and crazy conspiracy theorists like me have trained people that anything that contains the potential for privacy concerns has to be bad.
- They are associated with Facebook, a company that has a history of poor decisions and botched launches surrounding changes to our privacy options.
- Blood. Journalists smelled blood after the initial reactions and jumped on it for page views.
- Recent actions by Instagram such as blocking their images from Twitter put them on bad footing already.
All of the hate being directed at Instagram is silly. It’s a waste of time. It distracts people from real challenges we’re currently faced with on social media and the internet in general. Let it go.