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Lessons for social media websites from Instagram controversy

Facebook-owned Instagram has announced that they are reverting to their old "Terms of Service" following the uproar over revised language that indicated they might sell their users photos or provide them to advertisers without compensation.

The controversy caused many users to close their Instagram accounts, and spawned numerous articles, social media posts, and comments over what the revised terms of service actually meant.

There are many lessons to be learned from Instagram's (and Facebook's) mistakes:

If you run a major social media website or service used daily by millions of people, and you make a change to your policies -- people are going to notice and talk about the change -- better make sure that the change is clear, and necessary in the first place.

Terms of service and privacy policies are usually written by lawyers whom will "overreach" for the sake of protecting the client company. Basically they will often try to legally craft a document that essentially allows a company to do pretty much whatever they want to do without fear of being sued.

While these documents and changes are generally not read by the public on many smaller websites  -- any such changes will get discussed and examined in great detail in the media when a major social website is involved.

Facebook (the new owner of Instagram) has a history of making changes to their privacy policies and practices that arguably have not always been in the privacy interests of their millions of users.

While most Facebook users want to share parts of their life with "some" of their friends -- they don't necessarily want to share "everything" with all of their friends, much less the general public.

Instagram tried to explain that the intent of the terms of service changes were more limited than the language might suggest -- that they only intended to use one's profile photo and name to sponsor or promote advertising -- but not actually have user photos be part of the advertising itself, or to sell the photos for use in advertisements. This is smilar to the sposored advertisements on Facebook.

Facebook seems to erroneously make the assumption that just because I like a company, that I want to be an advertising shill for that company.

Just because I like something, doesn't necessarily mean I want my name and face plastered next to an advertisement for that company for all my friends to see.

I might "like" a company for a variety of reasons -- maybe I want to keep track of their promotions, get a coupon, or enter a sweepstakes -- where "liking" the company is a prerequisite. While I may indeed be interested in that company, I might not want to be part of an advertisement for that company.

Facebook luckily provides a privacy setting for turning off such use in advertising - although many users may not be aware of this.

But all this begs the question -- is using my name or photo to promote or sponsor an advertisement even necessary?

So much personal information is voluntarily provided by users on social media websites, that they already have a platform to effectively target advertising to those users anyway.

They already know what type of music I like, the places I frequent, my age and marital status -- so why not just serve up the appropriate advertisements for things I might be interested in?

Because at least in my opinion,  I really don't need to know that one of my friends like Charmin Toilet Paper next to an advertisement.

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