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Instagram back-pedals in face of user outrage

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Instagram has responded to the storm of protests from its users over proposed changes to its terms and conditions by promising to alter the language it uses and guaranteeing that it won't sell user's photos.

"Instagram users own their content and Instagram does not claim any ownership rights over your photos. Nothing about this has changed," said Instagram cofounder Kevin Systrom cofounder in a statement.

"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."

Systrom said the proposed changes to its terms and conditions were simply to allow it a little more flexibility in how it raises revenues. It wanted to try "innovative advertising that feels appropriate on Instagram," but said that would not involve using photos on the site in advertisements.

Instead, he said, Instagram had wanted to make it easier for companies to advertise themselves using the site. He gave the example of a company trying to promote itself which would be able to see if you are following it, use your photo to show that, and check which of your friends are also following it.

Privacy settings will also not change, Systrom said, guaranteeing that your photos would only be shared with people you've approved to follow you, provided you're used the private setting. Users should feel comfortable about sharing their images, he said, and the terms and conditions were being rewritten.

The last 24 hours must rank among the most unpleasant in Instagram's history. The changes kicked off huge online protests and a seeming exodus of users from the site, who were given until January 16 to remove their photos and delete their accounts if they didn't like the new terms.

The website for Instaport, which allows Instagram users to download their sepia-tinged snapshots from the site prior to removal, has been up and down frequently due to high demand. Other porting services are also reporting heavy traffic.

While Tuesday's statement may do something to stanch the flow of users from the site, it's clear that Instagram has made a major corporate mistake in announcing the changes poorly and not explaining them to panicking punters.

Ever since Mark Zuckerberg took the seemingly personal decision to shell out almost a billion dollars for the site, Facebook's management have been trying to find a way to monetize Instagram's user base and get its money back. Advertising is a logical step, but Facebook's approach has set those plans back severely.

The amended terms and conditions haven't been published as yet, but the new language will be gone over with a fine-toothed comb by the user base – and some are likely to dump the service anyway. With Flickr and Twitter both offering Instagram-like features, more and more users might decide to abandon the Facebook team and move to greener pastures, or at least someone else's sepia ones. ®

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