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Deleting Instagram

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on December 19, 2012 in Internet, News & Opinion |

I don’t know where you got the news from, I don’t know whether you’ve even come across it or taken it seriously yet, assuming that you are an Instagram user: the company now owned by the social media giant Facebook has changed its Terms and Conditions and they come into effect on January 16, 2013. So, nothing really unusual there, companies change their ToS, their AGBs, whatever you care to call their terms of usage, with monotonous regularity to meet new requirements, changes in the law, growing size or perceived threats. And most people just click on Agree, as they do when signing up for a new service or web site, and leave it at that.

Viktoria Michaelis: BBC News: Deleting Instagram

This time, however, a few well-meaning news sources, and one whole heap of commentators across the entire Social Media Networking world, have publicized what they see as a bad move. A bad move, that is, for all those who post half-way decent or marketable photographs to the popular site.

Let me put it in their own words:

Some or all of the Service may be supported by advertising revenue. To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.

Language which, I am sure you will agree, is very clear indeed. You supply us with your work, which is copyrighted to you alone, and we can sell it for our profit and have to share none of those profits with you.

In a short reply to the many concerns voiced over this amendment Kevin Systrom, a co-founder of Instagram, wrote a long blog post on the site which says, in part:

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.

Note the use of the word compensation here, exactly as used in the new Terms, and ask yourself, what is there in the wording that is confusing? The new Terms state clearly and concisely that photos, and other personal information, may be used without compensation to the user. I cannot see any way that this simple sentence can be misinterpreted or lead to any form of confusion.

I’m not going to go into the various forms of reaction which have appeared, I am sure you can research them yourselves if the need moves you, but I am going to highlight my reaction and the problems I have encountered. I decided to remove my Instagram account, plain and simple.

Instagram does not have a delete account button. It is not hidden from view, it is not even there. You cannot simply delete your Instagram account and its entire contents at the push of a virtual button, you need to request permission.

That’s right, you need to request permission from this Service to delete your own personal details, your own personal property, by filling out a form. And even then it is not done:

You can deactivate your Instagram account by logging into the Service and completing the form available here: https://instagram.com/accounts/remove/request/. If we terminate your access to the Service or you use the form detailed above to deactivate your account, your photos, comments, likes, friendships, and all other data will no longer be accessible through your account (e.g., users will not be able to navigate to your username and view your photos), but those materials and data may persist and appear within the Service (e.g., if your Content has been reshared by others).

Which basically says: you can deactivate but not delete your account and everything will still be there and we can still use it.

The answer, then, must be to delete each individual photograph manually and then request that your account be deactivated. Easier said than done, and I can recount this from personal experience. I had only a little over 450 photographs on the Service, only because some have many thousands. Deleting each photograph means clicking on a small, unmarked patch of three dots which then gives you the option of sharing or deleting. Click on delete and you’re asked whether you really want to delete the photograph or not, an acceptable fail-safe. Click on delete and the photograph is deleted. Well, no, not quite.

I managed to delete ten photographs. The eleventh reappeared in my portfolio a few seconds later, as did all others that I attempted to delete. I logged out, logged back in and tried again. The Service refused all attempts to delete, taking me through the delete process and then putting the chosen, deleted photograph back on my portfolio as if nothing had happened, as if I had not deleted it.

I decided to go about it another way, just in case the number of people who had marked it as a favorite or commented made a difference. I went to the Followers section and unfollowed everyone, then watched as all the blue Follow buttons reverted, seconds later, back to the green Following, against my will. I had to go through the list many, many times until all the requests to unfollow were actioned, and even then my main page shows that I am following people even though no one is there.

I discovered that I could delete between ten and fifteen photographs at one go, and then had to wait several hours before I could delete another ten to fifteen. A process which takes several days, not just the few minutes I would expect, and demand. Now you see why I said only above. Someone with many thousands of photographs, wishing to protect their own copyright against this Service, would spend more time deleting than they spent creating in the first place.

I was a keen user of Instagram, because I had imagined it to be an honorable company offering a real service with honorable and worthy intentions. It doesn’t bother me that they need to raise revenue to continue, but the means they have chosen does. The reply from Kevin Systrom is a very clear attempt to make things look better by lying, there is no other word that I can employ here. Systrom has lied to the users of Instagram, and attempted to cover up genuine and correct worries about breach of copyright and misuse of personal data. This does not bode well for the future, whether under the power of Facebook – a Service many regard as being an evil rather than a blessing, certainly in terms of privacy and adhering to the law – or as an independent company.

And can I be sure that all those photographs I have deleted, including my profile photograph, have really been deleted? Can I be sure that my personal information, my location, my e-mail address and all the rest will really be deleted should I demand / request it? No, I cannot.

I shall, however, remove everything that can be removed before January 16 so that the new Terms and Conditions do not apply to my works. After that, we shall have to wait and see.

  • Viktoria Michaelis.

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2 Comments

  • Francois says:

    There is absolutely no need to delete an Instagram account based on the phrasing of their Terms Of Service. TOSs are quasi-contracts and thereby subordinated to actual legislation.

    There is no legal way for an author to transfer a copyright, even willingly. An author can only assign rights of usage. Any contract, quasi-contract or TOS that transfers (not assigns rights of usage) a copyright is de facto and de jure null and void in any country that signed the Berne Convention.

    There is also a vast body of international legislation and treaties that govern the use of photographic work. One constant, pretty much all across the world, is that the photograph of a face belongs to the person who wears the face, not to the photographer and even less to the support media or its owners. In other words: before you publish, get that model released signed or woe be onto you. Same for private residences: one may not shoot and publish without consent.

    Not only is it impossible to sell someone else’s photographs without notification, it also cannot be done legally without active consent. The law governs contracts, not the other way around.

    Instagram went fishing and, luckily for them, were caught by the media and privacy activist before they could stick their fingers deeper into this specific sharks’s mouth. The ensuing lawsuits and class actions would have blown them out of the water forever.

    I laughed out loud when I saw this. I know a lot about advertising clients, especially the big, competent ones with legal departments. Never, ever, in a thousand years would they touch this advertising offer from an Instagram sales rep. The risks are so high they cannot be valued but think “cute baby growing up to be a porn star”, true story.

    Coming up next: Facebook has plans to embed commercial videos in your timeline. I smell the smell of despair.

    p.s.: you have releases from all these people here and on Tumblr?

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