If you visited Facebook today, you most likely saw at least a few friends post with utter exasperation about how they’re ditching Instagram immediately because it plans to sell personal pictures of their grandmothers making Christmas cookies to adult diaper companies. The outrage! Grab your torch and pitchfork, people–we hear Instagram is hiding at the McCoy’s house.
An alternative scenario: we could all take a deep breath and figure out what is really going on here. As usual, the truth is somewhere in the middle: Instagram does indeed have the right to use and copy your photographs, but it does not have the license to manipulate or place your content into a context that expressly endorses anything beyond your original expression.
So, those Instagram pictures of you and your girlfriend in Tijuana can’t be used—directly—in any Jose Cuervo ads. Might they appear near Jose Cuervo ads? Perhaps. But if you think you’ve seen this endorsement-by-association tactic before, you’re right: You’ve seen it on Facebook, which recently acquired Instagram for nearly $1 billion.
On Facebook, when you “Like” the band Temper Trap, the Soda Stream Machine, or the film Argo, you are making a conscious decision to tell others how you feel about particular people, products and things in life. Facebook plans to profit from your endorsements by selling them to advertisers who package and push them as “Sponsored Posts” to prospective customers within Facebook’s vast social network. This, of course, weirds people out because, although Facebook is simply promulgating established user sentiments, it is doing so when and—on a limited basis—how it wants to.
Either way, the public has a big decision to make: Are we cool with this or not? Let’s think it through.