InstagramInstagram, a smart phone picture app recently changed it terms and conditions and caused severe customer dissatisfaction, a user revolt and most recently a class action suit has been proposed. In addition competitors have used this change to promote their own sites, luring Instagram users with promises to treat them fairly.

What is Instagram?

Instagram is an application that runs on an iPhone or Android smartphone. In September of 2012, Instagram claimed more than 100 Million users. The company is owned by Facebook.

Instagram allows users to take pictures, apply a filter and then share the enhanced pictures with family and friends. The pictures are stored on an Instagram data base and then there are easy interfaces to share the pictures on Twitter, Tumbler and Facebook.

I have not used Instagram myself as of this writing, but I have seen my friends and family post Instagram pictures on Facebook.

What happened that caused the User Revolt?

Instagram announced that it was changing its terms and conditions and the net effect of the changes were that Instagram claimed it had perpetual right to sell users’ photographs without payment or notification. Users had 30 days to delete their accounts if they didn’t like the new terms and conditions.

The new policy allowed for Instagram to licence perpetually all public photos users had uploaded to their database.  It would allow Instagram to collect fees from companies for the use of these public photos, effectively giving Instagram a huge stock photo database, for free.

If users did not delete their accounts by Jan 16, 2013, but did so afterward,  it appears that the terms and conditions still allowed Instagram the rights to the photos that had been posted. There did not seem to be any documentation that says that deleting an account terminates Instragram’s right to the photos that had been posted before.

User Reaction

Users starting deleting their accounts and complaining on Twitter. A hashtag called ‘#boycottInstagram’ was introduced in Twitter and a popular post by Wired Magazine told users how to download their Instagram photos and delete their account.

Competitors Court Instagram Users

Companies such as 23Snaps, Flickr, Picassa and Blipfoto promoted that their terms and conditions allowed users to maintain control of their photos.

Instagram Relents

Instagram’s Chief executive apologized and promised that the terms and conditions that offended users so badly would be reworded.  Instagram claimed that legal terms are often confusing and that users didn’t understand what was meant.

Lawsuit Lauched

Also buried in the terms and conditions change also included a clause that was not so well noted as the ‘sale of user photos without notification or compensation’.

A mandatory arbitration clause was introduced that forced users to waive their rights to participate in a class action law suit except in very limited circumstances.  This clause was not removed as a result of the user revolt. Perhaps it was not noticed. A proposed class action lawsuit was filed in San Francisco federal Court.


This situation is another case study of the arrogance of organizations that think they can make changes that disadvantage users without repercussion. These terms and condition changes were obviously not well thought out. The recovery of user trust is not complete. The new terms and conditions need clarification and the lawsuit will cause more distrust. Why limit class action suits?

On a more positive note. Instagram did respond quickly to user complaints and the CEO was the one who took ownership, apologized and explained the company’s action plan.

It remains to be seen what the new terms and conditions will be and how users will react.



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Adele Berenstein

Adele Berenstein is an Experienced Customer Satisfaction Executive, recently retired from a Large Global IT Organization after a long productive management career including Sales, Marketing, Services, teaching and education center management and most recently, 19 years in customer satisfaction management. She turned around divisions with customer satisfaction problems, implemented measurable improvements and management systems, and implemented programs to prevent problems from ever affecting customers.

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