Instagram rulesThings are getting ugly in Instagramland.

The photo-sharing site’s controversial new policy allowing it to profit from sharing members’ photos with advertisers has sparked a user revolt. Budding photographers blacked out their home pages in protest, or left neatly cropped photos of obscene hand gestures where they’d once posted cute puppies or dreamy cloudscapes. Some of the site’s rock stars threatened to pick up and leave. And the blogosphere filled with angst over what many see as another example of Big Social Networking exploiting its loyal customers for the corporate bottom line.

In a blog post Tuesday afternoon entitled “Thank you, and we’re listening,” Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom seemed to muddy the waters even more, as Instagram users tried to decipher the legalese of the terms of service agreement that had been tweaked.

“One of the main reasons these documents don’t take effect immediately, but instead 30 days from now, is that we wanted to make sure you had an opportunity to raise any concerns,” Systrom wrote. “You’ve done that and are doing that, and that will help us provide the clarity you deserve. … Please stay tuned for updates coming soon.”

In his note, Systrom apologized for the confusing language, stating, “It is not our intention to sell your photos.” Yet he was vague on precisely what their intention was, writing, “We are working on updated language in the terms to make sure this is clear.”

Many users feel betrayed by Instagram, which was purchased earlier this year by Facebook in a deal originally valued at $1 billion in cash and stock. Their creative output, they felt, was now at risk of being exploited by a service they had trusted with their most personal photographs.

“I think the outrage is warranted because these new rules represent such a sea change from what Instagram was when it first started,” said Richard Koci Hernandez, assistant professor at the University of California-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and an Emmy Award-winning photojournalist. His iconic black-and-white portraits are followed by 163,000 Instagram members.

It was one sentence added to the site’s terms of service this week that sparked most of the anger among many of the service’s 30 million members: “You agree that a business may pay Instagram to display your photos in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions without any compensation to you.”

Before long, Instagram was reeling from user backlash. Some members created satirical ads featuring their own photos of a half-eaten cookie or a cappuccino with artwork etched in the cream. One Twitter user took a shot at the founder of Facebook, writing: “Hello #instagram can you please sell this picture to Mark Zuckerberg?”

The user included a photo of a raised middle finger.

“Before Instagram become part of Facebook, the terms of service were always creator-friendly. It was never ever Facebook-like. They were always your photos and would remain your photos,” said Koci Hernandez.

“Now,” he said, “that’s changing, and I’m thinking about what other services I might use and deleting my Instagram account because I don’t want my photos used in ads.”

Source: MCT Information Services