I quite liked Instagram. I enjoyed the ease with which I could use it to capture odd moments in my life and share them with friends. I liked using its filters. Contrary to what some of Instagram’s critics believe, I didn’t think I was creating works of art or professional-standard photos. I was just tinkering with my photos in a way that I thought was visually pleasing or interesting. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. The point is, I enjoyed doing it and some of my friends enjoyed seeing the end result.
Those with a highly advanced understanding of media and privacy law, or of marketing communications, have a phrase to describe this. It’s called “taking the piss”.
I don’t mind Instagram making money. They can hardly be expected to keep going if they make no money at all. I have no problem with them pursuing an advertising-funded model. Sure, a lot of advertising – particularly online advertising – is annoying, but that seems to me to be a bigger problem for the advertiser than it is for me. As Mindshare’s Norm Johnston recently explained to The Economist: “You can’t annoy someone into liking you.” I’d happily have tolerated advertising in Instagram – maybe even clicked on an ad or two if they looked interesting.
But taking and using my photos without my knowledge or express consent and using them in an ad for who knows what – that’s different. That’s applying a message to my photo that isn’t there, and that I might not want it to have. Moreover, it is the exploitation of my creative endeavour (yes, I know, they’re just Instagram snaps, but the principle still applies) without any payment to me. I will freely admit that if Instagram had chosen to adopt a model that involved micro-payments to the Instagram user each time, say, someone clicked on an ad that included their photo, I might have thought twice about cancelling my account. As it was I didn’t and I am on Instagram no more.
I am aware, however, that this is probably a small and futile gesture. I don’t imagine that Instagram is alone in abusing and misusing its user data in this way. Its parent company, Facebook, has form in playing fast and loose with its users’ data and generally treating their privacy with disdain and contempt. Those networks that don’t yet commit such abuse – Twitter, I’m hoping, maybe Google+, although Google’s reputation on privacy is not exactly spotless – will surely succumb to temptation. The more private or personal the data, and the more inappropriate the use of it, the greater its value.
But I can’t leave Facebook. I live a long way from most of my friends, so it’s too valuable to me as a way of keeping up with their lives, and they with mine. And I’m a fully paid-up Twitterholic, too. Oh, how I love hitting on the perfect 140-character bon mot, or the little burst of endorphins that is triggered by each re-tweet. So my only hope is that something else comes along. Maybe someone will see in Facebook’s villainy an opportunity to set up a different kind of social network whose method and timing will be perfectly suited to the moment so that they can gain critical mass and we can all watch Facebook’s blood drain slowly from its share price. And then, at some point, I’ll discover that that network has sold one of my photos of my chickens for use in a Ryanair ad, and we can start the whole process all over again.