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Posted on December 19th, 2012 by Barry Collins

Instagram scam: how the media was sucked in


And so, with all the predictability of an EastEnders plot line, Instagram has started back-pedalling on the controversial “we own your photos” policy that it had no intention of implementing in the first place.

It was such a predictable PR stunt that we told you exactly how it was going to pan out yesterday morning:

PC Pro tweets

Yet, that still didn’t stop half the world’s media from jumping on the “story”, writing ┬áhand-wringing pieces about this gross invasion of your rights, and following up this morning with self-congratulatory “Instagram forced to back down” stories. It wasn’t forced to back down. It never intended to sell people’s photos in the first place. It was a stunt designed to give the company two days of feverish press coverage at a time of year when its PR company knew absolutely nothing else was going on and would receive maximum attention. You’ve been played, chaps. At least have the good grace to admit it.

Yet, the main reason that this is such an obvious non-story is that the enormous vault of heavily-filtered, smartphone snaps has no commercial value in the first place. It’s a gigantic, unsorted, poorly labelled mass of iffy photography. Even if someone was mad enough to pay for the content, there’s no meaningful way of searching the Instagram library in the first place.

Nobody wants to see blurry photos of your kids, your cat or your breakfast that have been bodged to look like a 1970s Polaroid, let alone pay for them.

Update 21 December 2012: Instagram has now performed a full u-turn. A blog post from the Instagram CEO says: “Because of the feedback we have heard from you, we are reverting this advertising section to the original version that has been in effect since we launched the service in October 2010.”

How tediously predictable.


Posted in: Newsdesk, Rant


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17 Responses to “ Instagram scam: how the media was sucked in ”

  1. Darryl Godden Says:
    December 19th, 2012 at 9:56 am

    “when its PR company knew absolutely nothing else was going on and would received maximum attention.”

    Although I agree with your assessment of their motives, I’m not sure the above paragraph is accurate.

  2. DVD Says:
    December 19th, 2012 at 10:08 am

    Stunt it maybe but the reason the story had legs is because – as Instagram have agreed – the new wording was written in such a way that it allows pictures to be sold. The world wide web is a gigantic, unsorted, poorly labelled mass but Google found a way of indexing it so well they’ve become a multi-billion dollar company. With the incentive of having the required permission and the backing of Facebook’s development team, Instagram could then do the same. Like the web, Instagram’s content is mostly rubbish but in amongst all that rubbish is a gem or two that might just be worth something to someone. I can think a of a few celebrities on there who might have been consulting their lawyers re: image rights agreements yesterday.

  3. Chatan Says:
    December 19th, 2012 at 10:14 am

    How can this PR be a good thing? Most people know what Instagram is. Of those that do, a lot will be upset and delete their account. Of those that don’t, most will remember it for being an invasion of privacy so would never use it

  4. gavmeister Says:
    December 19th, 2012 at 10:29 am

    you can still stop using instagram and use another service though. no matter whether they backpedal or whether it was a PR conspiracy, instagram are still now outside the circle of trust. barriers to switching are not high*


  5. Chris Says:
    December 19th, 2012 at 11:06 am

    I’m not a big fan of conspiracy theories, as there are usually simpler explanations. Given that this has had a negative impact on the company’s reputation, whether it’s long lasting or not, I prefer the c*ck-up hypothesis. Somebody drafted a text and it wasn’t submitted to sufficient scrutiny. Much simpler explanation.

  6. JG Says:
    December 19th, 2012 at 11:14 am

    Not all publicity is good publicity, particularly when the publicity starts talking about you copying and selling things that your customers have entrusted to you.

    It’s a bit like having a safety deposit box that the bank can open, sift through all your stuff, and snaffle anything they think is worth something.

    Instagram are now seen as completely untrustworthy, whether they meant to or not.

  7. JamesD Says:
    December 19th, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    It sounded daft for sure but conspiracy PR? Can’t see the negative attention as being worth it unless you subscribe to the Ryanair theory of marketing.

  8. Bill Maslen Says:
    December 19th, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    Have to agree with JG on this one: nice (and attractive) though the PR conspiracy theory is, the resulting damage to brand credibility is not something any company (let alone a publicly quoted one) can afford to take lightly.

  9. J Gray Says:
    December 19th, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    My (very quick scan) reading of the new conditions seemed to indicate that they were giving the capability to advertisers to use your photos in delivery of advertising to you. Not taking your photos and passing them on, but maybe using your own images to personalise advertising being tailored to the user. Or maybe I’m hopelessly naive and trusting.

  10. nicomo Says:
    December 19th, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    Definitely a PR Stunt – if not a quick U turn

  11. Mark Thompson Says:
    December 19th, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    Not a PR-stunt – they’re now as distrusted as Facebook as most people won’t have heard the stories about the retraction of the T&Cs.
    Problem they had was that their intention (using your pictures to make personalised adds to your Facebook friends etc) was not mentioned in their T&Cs and what was mentioned was deliberately left as wide open & unrestricted as possible so they didn’t shoot themselves in their (legal) foot by accidentally going beyond their own T&Cs. Instead they shot themselves in their PR foot.

  12. B Pratt Says:
    December 20th, 2012 at 7:47 am

    I will say it now, I will say it again, I will say it often: yet another reason to run far, far away from F**kbook just as fast as you can. Assume the Evil Dead are chasing you, mmmkay?

  13. AnObserver Says:
    December 20th, 2012 at 9:41 am

    It might be just a ‘binary infiltration’.

  14. Saqib Says:
    December 21st, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    Skeptical of calling this a PR stunt, the amount of bad press that Intstagram has recieved is still having affects, I have people on facebook who are still advocating the deletion of their instagram accounts because they havent seen the follow up U turn story.

    Aside from calling this a PR stunt I think you guys called it pretty spot on.

  15. Bob Says:
    December 21st, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    No, as photos they have no value. The intent is not to sell images. The value is in DATAMINING. Facebook can identify people and other programs can now identify locations. SO if you take a picture of your party at Cafe Trendy then everyone in the pic can be identified and marketed to.

    Or say Coca Cola wants to target people. They could just mine all the pix for people drinking Coke.

    Since the rights to your image was in question there is the possibility it could be shared with others without you doing so. So a post goes out say “Me” enjoying a Coke at Cafe Trendy to everyone in your friends list.

    There is a lot they can do with photos

  16. Me_Lee Says:
    December 26th, 2012 at 12:01 am

    Oh yeah – sucking lots of people into cancelling their accounts. Marketing genius.

    Much more likely they are trying it on to see what they can get away with – a fishing expedition.

  17. Greg Woods Says:
    January 3rd, 2013 at 9:35 am

    Reminds me of when Heinz announced they were discontinuing Salad Cream. Public outcry followed, then a brand new advertising campaign a couple of weeks later!


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