Users call Instagram's copyright bluff. Half of all subscribers leave.

Jan 14, 2013

Instagram (and its parent company Facebook) obviously thought it was such a clever idea at the time: the retrospective imposition of new terms and conditions on existing users of its service that would allow it to claim copyright ownership of photos posted on the site and then sell them to advertisers.

However, Instagam's cynical calculations ignored one vital factor, people-power, and once the company's toxic mix of brass-necked opportunism and unalloyed greed became evident users simply upped and left the Instagram service in vast numbers.

Indeed, between December 17, 2012, when Instagram announced its intention to fleece the public, and January 11, 2013, the site lost 50 per cent of its user base and Instagram was forced to grovel to its subscribers and bend itself into an ignominious U-turn in an effort to save itself from even greater disaster.

The fiasco was entirely of Instagram's own making. Without wishing to be overly Old Testament about such rapacious greed and staggering hubris, Instagram should perhaps have considered the words of the ancient prophet Hosea, who wrote that "they sow the wind and shall reap the whirlwind". That online whirlwind blew up from nowhere overnight to bring Instagram to its knees in less than a month.

Basically, what happened was that users called Instagram's stupid bluff. The company presented its new demands as a non-negotiable fait accompli and told its customers that if, as individuals, they didn't like the new regime, they could simply delete their account. Big mistake. More than eight MILLION users did exactly that, leaving Instagram's management stunned and scared as the sky fell in on them.

On December 17 last year, Instagram's daily users, the most important grouping that use the service on a daily basis, numbered 16.35 million. At the end of last week that number was 8.42 million. The backlash was massive, fast and effective and Instagram had either to climb down or risk losing all its users.

Reaction against the company's arrogance was led by celebs users of the Instagram service, such as Kim Kardashian (who he? Ed). who stopped using the site. Their phalanxes of followers quickly followed suit. The rest, as they say, is history.

Facebook bought Instagram in April, 2012, for a billion bucks. At the time many analysts questioned the wisdom of paying so much for a site and service that seems to do little except make new photos taken in 2013 look like old ones snapped ether in the 1970s or 1890 - but then who is to gainsay that nice young Mr. Zuckerberg?

Anyway, Instagram got the message in spades and did a rapid 180 degree turn. But did it admit to making a massive faux pas and beg its user's collective pardons? Don't be silly. The company says the entire disaster was the result of a "misunderstanding" and called the figures detailing the loss of customers as "inaccurate".

The figures in question were calculated by AppStats, an organisation that measures applications uptake by tracking users who log into Instagram through Facebook. AppStat's CEO, Sebastian Sujka, says most of the huge number of users who have deserted Instagram in recent weeks are those who objected to Instagram's unilateral declaration of greed with enough determination and anger to vote with their feet.

For it's part, Instagram, in a message beamed in from the planet Uranus, says, "We continue to see strong and steady growth in both registered and active users of Instagram". Tellingly though, the company has declined to provide any figures to back-up its remarkable claim. And, of course, Instagram has reverted to its old T's & C's - but not for any particular reason that it is willing to divulge. And as for an apology - forget it.

Instagram shot itself in the foot twice; first by claiming the 'rights' to use photos and user data to "promote sponsored content" (i.e advertising) without user's permission and, second and more contentiously still, by saying that any person under the age of 18 using the Instagram service would be deemed by the company as having tacitly obtained the permission of a parent or guardian to do so and thus their content could also be sold to advertisers.

Thankfully, there are alternatives to Instagram, including Camera +, Camera Awesome, Flickr, Hipstamatic, Path and 100 Cameras in 1 as well as many others. Your choice.

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