There’s been an a huge uproar in the online space when Instagram updated their T&Cs in an alarming direction.
People thought that this allowed Instagram to sell their photos and their private data to brands to advertise on Instagram. Then there were the cynical ones who told off the others that they were too naive, that this was “normal” on the internet these days. Instgram founder publicly and quickly apologised for the misunderstanding and promised to “re-phrase” the T&Cs to reflect the fact that they will not sell your photos. And just recently, they are actually retracting and going back to their original T&Cs!
It was interesting to watch. To me, it was a manifestation of several facets of the new digital age:
- Privacy in the digital space is becoming an increasing concern among users. Though it is completely true that there’s nowhere to hide in the internet, people are worried about what is happening to their data without their consent, or even knowledge. This is exacerbated by the increased usage of social media, where the data people are posting are becoming even more private and personal. But there’s a difference between private data, and commercial use of that data.
- There is now more pressure on companies to be transparent on their data usage. The pressure comes from users as much as from legislation. In Europe, privacy is much more regulated, where transparency is not enough. Companies need to get upfront consent from users (opt-in), rather than an “opt-out” by default.
- What’s the difference between Rupert Murdoch and Mark Zuckerberg? When Murdoch invades your privacy, it’s illegal. When Zuckerberg invades your privacy, it’s the future.
You are the Product
- In addition to tweaking targetted advertising to you, companies are now using you to sponsor or promote products. Without your explicit consent. Check out Facebook’s “Sponsored Stories”. There is a Class Action Suit against Facebook around this feature.
No free lunch
- Instagram is “free” to use. Like so many applications. Users like that (of course). But there’s no free lunch. Instagram must make money. It’s fine as a start up, but it’s not sustainable. Specially since Facebook bought it. Users “can’t have their cake and eat it too”. In a free software, you are the product. If you don’t like that, it’s best to pay.
Power of the user
- I guess if “users” could topple dictators using social media, why not force companies to retract on their positions? It is clear more and more that the balance of power has shifted radically to the users. Users now do the marketing for brands, customer support, ideation — and force them to change their positions.
Mistrust of Facebook
- People have an instinctive mistrust of Facebook. They’ve been accused many times of having opaque T&Cs, of the complexity of managing one’s privacy settings, that every time they change their T&Cs, some protest takes place. Seems they can’t get it right. This feeling will only increase as pressure increases on Facebook to monetise, and since the content posted is so intensely personal.