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Is Instagram FTC Compliant?

Effective January 16, 2013 Instagram will have a new user agreement. The Terms of Use are changing in a predicatable manner, it’s a free service and I assume from the update that they’re going to start adding inline advertising. My question is, “Is Instagram FTC compliant?”

I’m sure Instagram has a massive legal team now that they’re owned by Facebook but parts of their Terms of Use make me wonder what sort of digital citizens they’re in search of. Let me take you through the process of signing up for Instagram.

sign up for instagram

First you tap to register

Next you enter an email address

Next you add an email address. Since you need to be 13 to use the service I’m assuming they rely on, gmail and yahoo to verify the ages, right? Oh wait….

make up any email address for instagram

And just like that Young_Child is a registered Instagram user.

The fact of the matter is that you’ll need a smartphone to enjoy instagram with friends so parents don’t really need to worry about it. Oh, wait… did you just get your kid an itouch? Nevermind.

Anyhow, I’m not going to get all screechy and say “The Children The Children” but then I remembered they’re my kids and it’s my job to keep them safe. I am going to get a little screechy about the fact that Instagram is allowing children from 13-17 who are not old enough to enter into a contract to digitally agree to a contract on behalf of me.

And you’re like… huh? That makes no sense.

Instagram allows users 13-17 to use their service. The updated terms of use states:

instagram asks teens for contracts

In case you can’t see the image it states:

Some or all of the Service may be supported by advertising revenue. To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you. If you are under the age of eighteen (18), or under any other applicable age of majority, you represent that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to this provision (and the use of your name, likeness, username, and/or photos (along with any associated metadata)) on your behalf.

Since when do we have children entering into contracts (because that’s what this is) with verbiage that in it’s essence says, “I promise to have my mom check it”.

Because I’m a blogger I obviously have major issues with Instagram using my images for sponsored content without any sort of revenue share. I won’t be on Instagram as of January 16 if they don’t reverse that. The good news is that folks are flocking back to Flickr and I’ll connect with them there.

So it’s crummy that Instagram doesn’t do anything to keep kids under 13 off their service. Since the audience is allegedly all over the age of 13 they don’t have to be COPPA compliant and that does make it easier to run a business. The bummer in all of this comes in section 3 of Instagram’s new Terms of Use.

instagram tricks kids

Yes, that reads: You acknowledge that we may not always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such.

This sucks if you’re a parent. Don’t trick my kids. I’ll send them to SnapChat.

Instagram is a microblogging photo service. That makes Instagram users bloggers. (Are you with me so far?) Instagram now owns rights to the blog content right? Well, they own the ad dollars. This is from the FTC:

The recent creation of consumer-generated media means that in many instances, endorsements are now disseminated by the endorser, rather than by the sponsoring advertiser. In these contexts, the Commission believes that the endorser is the party primarily responsible for disclosing material connections with the advertiser. However, advertisers who sponsor these endorsers (either by providing free products – directly or through a middleman – or otherwise) in order to generate positive word of mouth and spur sales should establish procedures to advise endorsers that they should make the necessary disclosures and to monitor the conduct of those endorsers.

I could parse the entire 20 page document that discusses the FTC Guidelines for endorsements but I think y’all get the gist of it. The FTC is calling for disclosure.

If I was selling Elf on the Shelf (what IS that thing anyhow?) I’d be advertising all over Bobbie’s Instagram Stream.

elf of the shelf on instagram


I’m not leaving Instagram yet because I cannot comprehend how a legal team would come up with this set of terms. In the interim Enrique has a great workaround.

Enrique Guitierrez on Instagram

And Ciaran reminded me that you can always use Instagram in airplane mode, get the benefits of the filters and then just have the images on your phone for your personal use.

Will you still be on Instagram during the second half of January?

UPDATE: The instagram blog has been updated and includes the following:

Our intention in updating the terms was to communicate that we’d like to experiment with innovative advertising that feels appropriate on Instagram. Instead it was interpreted by many that we were going to sell your photos to others without any compensation. This is not true and it is our mistake that this language is confusing. To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos. We are working on updated language in the terms to make sure this is clear.


Instagram users own their content and Instagram does not claim any ownership rights over your photos. Nothing about this has changed. We respect that there are creative artists and hobbyists alike that pour their heart into creating beautiful photos, and we respect that your photos are your photos. Period.

Does this change things for you?

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