Instapocalypse and the Permission War

Image by tres.jolie

How’s your Instagram account treating you now? Feel better now that Instagram restored some of its original terms of service, and recommitted to observing permission marketing norms with photos?

It seems like every four or five months we experience some outrageous Internet drama where tech and marketing bloggers declare the death of a brand.

Instagram, Chick-fil-a, Netflix, Walmart, etc. have all been condemned for some egregious act of anti-socialness. And then of course, the brands don’t die, and in most cases correct the wrong, recover, and prosper. In the case of Netflix, they are making more money than ever before.

Yet the “Instapocalypse” was different. Like other faux deaths, the network’s daily user losses seem to be negligible, but Instagram conceded promptly to its users, and retracted its intellectual terms that harnessed users’ photos for commercial purposes.

Instagram users won a larger mobile battle in the Permission Marketing War.

A War for Access

This is Happening without your Permission
Image by What What

The Instapocalypse offered a deeper wrinkle than your average Internet drama.

Instagram violated the basic tenants of permission and data privacy for marketing, forcing people to surrender their photos for commercialization. In doing so, Instagram not only upset typical privacy boundaries, but also transcended anger to the ferocious level people display when their mobile experience is violated.

There is nothing more private or personal than mobile phones and the data they hold, including photos.

Consider how hard it is to get people to provide their numbers for text updates. It’s not quite like surrendering an email address.

The mobile device is the ultimate personal possession, perhaps even more so than your wallet. In fact, it is quickly replacing the wallet as means of payment.

As a result, the mobile device and all of the data it holds, from photos to financial information, has become the ultimate battleground for permission marketing. Brands want to become a part of your mobile experience, for many it’s a question of survival.

Smart marketers seek explicit permission before sending people content on their smart phones. Other brands bend the rules, and interrupt mobile experiences. Some resort to push themselves into your mobile experience, including questionable privacy violations, forced opt-ins to notifications on apps and via email updates, and other questionable practices.

Harnessing mobile data has long been issue for FourSquare, Apple and other players. Now Instagram has experienced a similar disdain for licensing mobile memories, which is what most of these photos represent. This ongoing permission war promises to touch and mar every data issue relating to mobile.

Personal Use Moving Forward

My Now Private Instagram Page

Although I didn’t blog about the issue initially, as an amateur photographer with a lot of photos of his kid on Instagram I was annoyed.

It’s not surprising when my data is used or abused anymore. The current Internet culture of big data, algorithms, social scores and other means of trying to monetize and quantify people’s online lives almost demands data abuse.

But I don’t like the idea of Intagram/Facebook monetizing my photos, some of which were high caliber images downloaded to my iPhone so I could share them on Instagram.

Overall, I don’t think Instagram’s terms of service retraction changed corporate Facebook’s attitude about media. Facebook’s photo privacy policy is more draconian than Instagram’s, so long term there’s no safe haven. And I catch enough grief about my face being used in Facebook social ads as it is.

In the end, I decided to take my Instagram profile private as a general protection.

Flickr does a better job of letting me choose which photos are searchable and by whom. Further, it’s new app is awesome, and my public photos are well indexed by the search engines. So in my book, Flickr offers a better venue for public photos anyway.

What did you think of last month’s Instapocalypse?

Want to learn more about big data, intellectual property and privacy concerns? Attend X-Potomac on February 25, and learn how the furture of digital will impact business.


  • Nice read here G and was waiting to see you chime in on it. Overall the problem I had with this instance was how much overreaction there was from the folks on social media.

    Facebook will push the envelope as to what they can get away with. While a bunch of social DBs complained and asked for a mass exodus, it just drew more attention to the smaller network under their control and also did not cross the plate of the typical user who does not play on Twitter or FB 24/7 like many of us do.

    Imagine if a change like this had went to Facebook, the loss and attention would have been 100 fold. The other thing that struck me as funny during this whole fiasco was the complaints on Facebook about people liking pages that they would never like. Problem is that depending on what you use the FB open graph to use, companies can do some really shady things with your account that you might never know including changing friend lists and images… so could this also be Facebook’s test ground or sacrificial lamb of sorts?

    • Thanks man. I think Facebook already did this to us if youlook at the terms and content/photos. Instagram was late to the game for Facebook abuse so when they tried to correct that and treat Instagrammers in the same way, it blew up. Facebook is so fricking evil.

  • The biggest takeaway I got from it was how it wasn’t the usual social media gonks (me included) that blogged about this. On Facebook and Twitter, it was “everyday users” that care not a jot about marketing and social media, but do use Instragram and actually took to taking action over the faux pas. That’s what impressed me the most, and should act as a wake up call to other networks and social companies.

    • Yeah, I liked you post, and a good history of Permission Marketing. I hope readers click through to the link to it (Smart marketers phrase, for those looking).

      To me the extra outrage was the due to the hyper personal nature of photos and mobile, basically walking memories. To say you can sell someone else’s memories? Well, that’s pretty dark science fiction right there. Hope you had a good holiday, and thanks for the comment!

  • I didn’t understand all the legal aspect of theInstapocalypse but there was a rush to mis-interpret what their new rules indicated. Nevertheless it was badly worded and by the time that Instagram responded, the conversation was beyond simple ‘wording’ issue with their new rules. It also spoke volume about the level of mistrust people have of Facebook. Also +1 for @dannybrown:disqus post on this!

    • Thanks, @abdallahalhakim:disqus, glad you enjoyed it, sir. :)

    • I really think they dumped it at the end of the year thinking most people wouldn’t be paying attention. But the problem with slow news weeks is if you make bad news, it gets amplified. I think Facebook PR should get a hand slap for this one.

  • A good read on how they spend so much time getting it right, just in time for someone to get it wrong!

    I read some where that no one choked when they swallowed their pride… Probably applies here and Insta’ have saved themselves from greater pain.

    Thanks for the steer on Flickr, will go take a look


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