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U-turn for Instagram as it scraps controversial changes

Online uproar forces photo-sharing service to backtrack on changes to privacy terms

Instagram has been forced to mount an embarrassing about turn in the face of an online uproar, rescinding some controversial changes to its service norms after scores of users were riled up by what to many seemed like a push by the photo-sharing site to hawk their snaps to advertisers.

But facing a growing international uproar, Instagram boss Kevin Systrom stepped in to quell the protests this week, saying: “I want to be really clear: Instagram has no intention of selling your photos, and we never did. We don’t own your photos – you do.”

Alongside, he said the website, which was bought by Facebook, the social media website which over the years has encountered its share of controversies over settings governing user privacy, for more than $700m this year, would scrap the new terms governing advertising and go back to older norms that had ben in force since the service was launched in October 2010.

This means that wording which seemed to allow Instagram advertisers to show user photos without compensating those uses is out. As apparently is another controversial clause that implied the consent of parents’ if a child under 18 signed up used the service.

In a blog post put up late on Thursday, Mr Systrom also apologized for the controversy. “We introduced a set of updates to our privacy policy and terms of service to help our users better understand our service. [But] In the days since, 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,” he wrote.

The remainder of the new terms, including a mandatory arbitration clause which, according to legal experts who spoke to the Reuters news agency, immunizes the website “from many forms of liability.”

Mr Systrom’s and Instagram’s reversal comes after days of controversy, when numerous Instagram users, including, notably, National Geographic magazine, threatened to stop using the service.

In the future, Mr Systrom said the website would attempt to forge new terms only after it had developed new products, as opposed to pre-emotively attempting to change terms that, at first glance, alienate users by apparently encroaching on what they consider their own turf.  “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,” Systrom said.

Facebook bought the service earlier this year in a cash and shares deal valued initially at $b1n. That price tag fell to around $715m, however, as Facebook’s own share price declined.

The changes to the new terms follows an earlier blog post by Mr Systrom where he also sought to limit the anger among users by reassuring them that their photos would not be sold to the highest bidder. “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,” he said earlier in the week.