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Instagram: complete ‘systrom’ failure or fine by Facebook? Image credit - digital mischief Featured

SSNAFU: Systrom situation normal, all facebooked up might well be the reality for Instagram, whose updated terms of service have gone down like an Instakilo of lead balloons, has inevitably led to a Zuckerberg-style apology.

Facebook lives by the maxim that it is better to ask forgiveness than permission, and as such, has seen its CEO and Founder Mark Zuckerberg make many apologies while nevertheless moving ahead with whatever cunning plan Facebook has for itself and its users.

Now that Facebook is public, with its IPO famous for having gone so wrong, the need to monetise eyeballs to the satisfaction of Wall St analysts on a quarterly basis is imperative – especially with Facebook’s share price still well under $30.

That means we see the “trial balloon” of “in your face” video advertising in timelines to come in the future being leaked to AdAge and it means we now hear that Facebook wants to let anyone send you a message if they’re willing to pay a dollar.

It also means that Facebook just got rid of any pretence of any kind of user democracy after having introduced it in the first place, and it means that wholly-Facebook owned subsidiaries like Instagram had better get with the monetisation program and do it fast.

It’s important to note that there’s nothing wrong with advertising. It helps to pay for content, and as you can see, we carry advertising too. It’s the way you go about it that’s important, as well as the way you treat your users.  

Instagram has hopefully learned that taking users for granted while forgetting that business is nothing without users and customers, and it seems clear this has been a massive wake-up call following the user revolt against the new terms and conditions.

Instagram’s changes appeared to suggest end-users no longer owned their photos, because Instagram could use that content for any advertising or promotion purposes whatsoever, leading to the biggest technological revolt in quite some time.

Even celebrities who barely enjoy any privacy were aghast at Instagram’s instagreed, leading to Instagram’s founder, Kevin Systrom, doing a Zuckerberg and making an apology – except this time at Instagram’s official blog.

Mr Systrom states part way through the blog post that: “…it became clear that we failed to fulfill what I consider one of our most important responsibilities – to communicate our intentions clearly. I am sorry for that, and I am focused on making it right.

Noting all the “feedback” Instagram had received, which is a nice euphemism for anger, disgust, heartbreak and more, Mr Systrom states that: “Going forward, rather than obtain permission from you to introduce possible advertising products we have not yet developed, we are going to take the time to complete our plans, and then come back to our users and explain how we would like for our advertising business to work.

He also states later that: “Instagram has no intention of selling your photos, and we never did. We don’t own your photos – you do.

However, it still sounds like everyone’s content is going to be used in some way, without your specific permission, in some future advertising scheme or ploy that will be better explained.

In the meantime, Instagram has simply been following the standard Facebook playbook again – skirt as close to the line and beyond on it privacy for as long as possible, and apologise as much as possible when caught.

Then, after changing the language a bit to obfuscate while “communicating our intentions clearly”, just keep on doing whatever it was they were doing in the first place that got so much attention for it being the wrong thing to do.

Users care that their service has been purposefully degraded by feeble filter replacements for the perfectly good, much nicer looking and more popular ones that shipped in the first place, and purposefully degraded through changes to terms and condition.

The big question, however, is whether all this will ultimately make any difference to Instagram’s userbase, or whether this is just a Facebook-like blip on Instagram’s radar.

After all, Kim Kardashian made threats to leave, but soon returned to promoting her fragrance.

Meanwhile, even though some have made the decision to leave Instagram despite Kevin Systrom’s not-quite apology for the thuggish “systromper stomper” behaviour of its poorly worded, poorly received and at least temporarily reversed terms and conditions changes, plenty have also decided Mr Systrom’s statement was enough.

Thus, it looks like Instagram will get away with it, just like its parent company has time and again.

We are the generation of people that will be the deliverers or destroyers of privacy to future generations.

I hope we all ultimately deliver a world of liberty, privacy, free enterprise and prosperity to our descendants, while enjoying even greater technological advancements, and I hope we don’t all stuff it up!

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

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One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks, including stints as presenter of Ch 10’s Internet Bright Ideas, Ch 7’s Room for Improvement and tech expert on Ch 9’s Today Show, among many other news and current affairs programs.

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