Instagram No Longer Safe For Kids?




December 18th 5 pm Update – Instagram has responded to all of the questions on their blog. They clearly state that private accounts will remain private and that:

it was interpreted by many that we were going to sell your photos to others without any compensation. This is not true and it is our mistake that this language is confusing. To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos.

This is why knee-jerk reactions and deleting accounts in a fit are never the right answer. Thank you Instagram for not ruining a great thing.

This update makes the heart of this post out of date, but parents NEED to be aware of what their kids are doing and where they are doing it.


I’m a big fan of using photography to share my life with others. I take photographs every single day and with the new social tools that are out there I am able to share these with friends,family and followers around the globe.

I’ve been using Instagram for a long time and love the community I’ve found there. But, yesterday they decided that money was the most important thing to them and as a parent it means I have to encourage every one of you to NOT allow your children to use it anymore.

Let me be very clear right up front that Instagram is a business and they have to make money to survive. I understand that and have wondered for quite some time which path they’d choose to keep moving forward. They certainly have many options and they must monetize their platform.

But, what they decided is that starting next year, they own the rights to sell any and all of your images to anyone they want. You don’t get any say in it or any money for it. After January 16, 2013 any photos on their servers they can do this with as shown in their terms of service. There have been lots of write ups about what this means and this one explains it well.

Now, my daughter and many of her friends love Instagram. They share photos of their outfits, nails, and other slices of life around them. They love it for the same reasons I do.

I allowed this because my daughter has a private account and I have to approve of any new followers. Her phone doesn’t have data capabilities, so she can only post from her iPod Touch when on a wireless network so this keeps the chances of inappropriate choices to a minimum.

Tonight, I’m explaining to her that unless Instagram changes their mind (I am going to wait and see if they realize how stupid of a business decision this is) she is going to have to delete her account and I’m encouraging all other parents to have the same discussion.

It is our responsibility as parents to protect our kids. Giving any company full and unchecked access to our children’s image is not something we should ever allow.

Personally, I’m not deleting my account yet, but I have updated my profile to share my feelings on the matter. *grin*

If they choose to continue with this, I fully expect that I’ll stop using the service because there are other options to share my photography that don’t involve me handing over MY rights to something that helps me make a living.

But, from the parenting point of view, this is an easy call.

Our children should NOT be on Instagram with these new terms of service. I hate saying that because I’ve had a blast watching what my daughter and her friends share. Interacting with them has allowed me to get to know them better than I would have without the tool. I’ve been able to peek in and keep an eye on my daughters life without being obtrusive and in a manner that we both enjoy.

And to anyone who plays the “but it is free” or “you don’t have any privacy already” cards let me stop you there because I understand that. I probably understand it more than you do.

My problem is with granting any company the right to sell my images without my approval. That is the only part of this that gets me angry and why I wrote this.

Parents, as of this moment in time Instagram is not a good place to let your kids have an account. With tons of new phones being given as gifts this year I encourage you not to let them sign up for one. If they have one right now, don’t freak out and delete it quite yet, but be aware of what is going on and ready to do so if things don’t change.

An aware and active parent is the best kind.


  • soniasimone

    Last time I was in a big marketing department that used images of people, you needed a model release for every person you show in an ad. And you make triple sure you have that release if the person is a child.

    I’m not convinced Instagram *can* use photos of people legally — the terms of service allow them a license for the copyright part, but you still have to have that model release. I am (so) not a lawyer, just noting that in my old corp environment our lawyers wouldn’t have permitted us to do it.

    • I’ve been there before as well, but the new TOS clearly cover the same thing that model releases do.

      They are not making anyone use the service or upload photos, but if you do they can use them under these new rules. Clearly stated and spelled out and it is 100% in their right to do so.

      Sad they decided to go that way. Viable way, but not the one I was hoping for.

      (I’m not a lawyer either)

      • Don’t Panic

        With all due respect, I just cannot see this happening. Setting aside whether there’s a huge market for blurry, filtered iPhone photos, very few companies would want to go through the hassle of using unreleased photos. There are just too many good, inexpensive, legally unambiguous options.

        There’s been this enormous knee-jerk reaction when the fact is, you’re jumping to a lot of conclusions that are frankly sort of a reach. The piece of the TOS that everyone has their panties in a bunch about and that you think is crystal clear is a couple of lines. If you’re at Instagram, twirling your mustache about how many photos you are going to sell, your lawyers are going to make for damn sure there are clauses in there about model releases, minors, etc. In NYC you can’t even walk by a movie set without seeing a sign with two paragraphs about how you walking by might be captured on film and you are giving implied consent in perpetuity etc. etc.

        From reading the terms in question, it seems to me that what they are opening the door on is doing more sponsored type advertising like Facebook does, where you get a unit in your newsfeed that tells all your friends you like brand X. Strains credulity the idea they are going to “monetize” by selling people ephemeral photos as stock, especially in the uber-litigious American market.

      • Again, I’m not a lawyer and to each their own.

        I wrote this to make sure parents are aware of the possible issues. What you and anyone else does with your account and the information is up to you.

      • Don’t Panic

        Well, Instagram just confirmed that they were outlining exactly what I said above: “Let’s say a business wanted to promote their account to gain more followers and Instagram was able to feature them in some way. In order to help make a more relevant and useful promotion, it would be helpful to see which of the people you follow also follow this business.”

        It helps to think about what’s actually useful to them as a business. Imagine you worked there and walked in one day and pitched “OK, guys, let’s sneak a little something into the TOS so we can sell everybody’s photos to advertisers. Coca Cola can now get stock imagery of someone’s nephew drinking a Coke, easy peasy with no permission.” Not only would everyone freak out abt the legal implications, where is the business model?

      • Yes and I updated the post as soon as they shared it.

        But, all this being said, they did lose a bit of trust from me. The people who created it are no longer in full control of it. That is what happens when you sell something.

        It’ll be interesting to see where they go from here. Lots of great ways for them to make money and they should. Lots of crap ways to make money and I hope they don’t.

      • soniasimone

        You can’t sign a model release for another person. Professional photographers have to deal with this all the time. If I take a photo of my friend or my friend’s kid on IG, I don’t have the legal ability to grant a model release for that. The person in the photograph has to sign it. And that person never signed the IG or FB TOS.

        I think it’s a stupid TOS and I think it’s ridiculous that they alarm and alienate their user base when they could just acquire images they want. And I think it’s doubly dumb that they don’t just add a line saying “We agree not to use your personal images in advertising without your permission.”

        But I haven’t seen anyone contradict what Don’t Panic points to — just because the TOS grants them a nonexclusive license doesn’t mean they can use your images in ads.

        And none of these address a very real issue, which is unethical advertisers who look through Flickr and Instagram looking for images to steal. *That* is a real problem, and a trickier one to solve. IG has assets to protect, shady little one-person “ad agencies” may not.

      • WELL said.

        Thankfully I just saw that Instagram shared that they hear the change has upset people and that they will be commenting soon.

        And you are TOTALLY right about other people in the photos and model releases. Hadn’t thought about that but you are correct (as far as I understand the rule).

    • I used to rep stock photography brands in a previous life and what you say is definitely on point, Sonia. Every single image that we made available for commercial usage had model releases attached, especially when minors were in the photo.

  • I’ve enjoyed watching your ascent, CC. And it’s great when you can wield your influence in this way. Wouldn’t it be cool if CC were the tipping point on this?! 🙂

    • Thanks……but I just wanted to make sure that parents were aware of this. I wrote it so I could send to friends and others.

      I think it is part of my responsibility to share what I know and then it is up to everyone else to make their own decisions of what to do with it.

  • There was an interesting case here in New York last year ( where an image of a young girl was used in a way that may have violated the terms of service the parents agreed with. I can only imagine the hornet’s nest these new Instagram TOS will stir up. My children aren’t old enough to be using photo sharing services yet. I’m waiting to see what changes may arise once the dust settles on this. If nothing changes I may very well delete my account. On a side note, is there a way to imbed meta data into an Instagram photo to track its path through the ether?

    • I know what you are asking and the answer is “I don’t know.”

      This is something photographers have been trying to figure out for a LONG time as their images are borrowed and outright stolen online.

  • Perfectly put, are you going to remove any photos of your kids in your own account?

    • No, because if these rules don’t change I’ll just be deleting my account completely so I won’t have to worry about it.

  • alliworthington

    Same set up with my son. I told him last night that I may have to cut his account. He went to his room and returned saying this, “So Mom, I read the new terms and they are really bad.” Even a 14yo gets it.

    • Good for him!

      Yeah, I want my kids to understand why this is bad. This IS the world we live in now and I want them to fully understand why it is a bad thing. I don’t want it to be a “Daddy says you have to do this so do it.”

  • Just watch, either the TOS will be re-updated based on the backlash, or Instagram will announce new “premium” plans where you pay to keep your photos as your own. The “free” plans will have all photos become public domain.

    • I’m 100% fine if they go the premium way. I’d pay to use Instagram because I get value out of it.

    • the freemium model is a good one, especially for these media rich sites because of storage. I’ll bet G+ does the same thing at some point with Hangouts (more features in an “Enterprise” plan, not necessarily TOS related, although it could be…you grant YouTube the same type of license)

  • Iris Johnson

    Thanks for this article…. because when I was almost done reading it I was about to go delete my kids accounts (8 & 12 YO) “If they have one right now, don’t freak out and delete it quite yet, but be aware of what is going on and ready to do so if things don’t change.”

    Glad you wrote that. Please keep me updated as I don’t check terms of service as often as I can. I felt I was being safe allowing Instagram over Facebook…. Having kids now a days is frightening!

    • This is exactly why I wrote it, in the hopes of keeping other parents updated and educated on what is going on.

  • Thanks for posting this CC. But I’m not sure I get it. So they can use your photo in an ad if they want? Worst case scenario: My daughter’s face shows up in a FB ad on TV? What am I missing? Sorry if I’m being daft.

    • Yup, that is the worse thing that could happen.

      But, your daughter should be compensated if that happens. She should KNOW it is happening.

      ANY photo leaves a whole lot of things opened. If they knew it could be turned into an ad, I think anyone would double thing about what they are posting.

      Plus, I and many photographers license photos to be used and by sharing them on Instagram we are now letting them do whatever they want for free. That isn’t a great model for anyone.

  • Why do I just keep getting the feeling that people want a Kodak instamatic or Polaroid Land camera back?? Instead of not using something, be mindful of what you post – oh, wait, that requires thinking and we can not expect that of anyone.

    • Please remember that this isn’t about silly filters and throwback look and feel. At least it isn’t for me.

      Instagram build a vibrant community of people who enjoy photos. I got more comments and interactions on silly snapshots I’d take from my life and travels than I did anywhere else and they were smart enough to insure that you could easily share to other networks.

      I loved that!

      The filters just allowed me to be creative, but most are posted without any.
      And thinking is something far too few people do. That is for damn sure! *grin*

  • CC,

    I tend to agree w/ you that the new TOS is certainly a game changer, especially for parents, and you’re right that no one should have the rights to your kids’ image.

    Wondering if you think because of the backlash so far, this may prime the pump for a Premium Instagram account where you can still retain ownership of your images? and would that be something you’d be willing to pay for because of your positive experience w/ the app so far?

    • I DO get enough value out of Instagram that I’d pay for it. I’ve said it before and I stand behind it.

      I don’t know what they are going to do. If they act like Facebook (their owners) usually does, they’ll back down. They seem to love to throw out something and if people freak to backtrack. Pretty shitty way to run a business, but it is working for them…..grr….. *grin*

  • Thanks for this post CC! I too have changed my Biography and will be deleting my cat pics (LOL – so happy I never used it except for cats). Boneheads! Their new terms of service will prompt a mass exodus. Whoever came up w/this needs to be flogged, fired and lobotomised.

    • It is the typical Facebook model. Throw out something, see if people freak out, maybe change their minds.

      Pretty typical and it took longer to happen than I thought it would.

  • We have exactly the same stance on this. And I *did* delete my account. If their stance changes, I’ll rejoin. Until then, no thanks.

  • Neeroc

    How is their ToS different from FBs? Shouldn’t that be equally or more concerning? “you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License).”

    Also, I wonder how they will sell images without model releases (which stock photos usually have) There is no consent given when someone clicks my pic with their phone.

    • Not very different, especially since FB owns Instagram.

    • I’m wondering the same thing. How is this different to the Facebook ToS? It’s not a rhetorical question. I’m really asking. Instagram flat out mentions using your photos for commercial purposes, and while Facebook doesn’t do the same, commercial use without compensation would still be within the ToS guidelines.

      From Instagram: “To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.”. Doesn’t Facebook do that already?

      • Its different in that on FB you can opt out of using your content in your settings. Instagram does not have any such opt out provision.

      • Thanks. I checked the ads settings on Fb and you’re right, it says this:

        “Facebook does not give third party applications or ad networks the right to use your name or picture in ads. If we allow this in the future, the setting you choose will determine how your information is used.”

        I had that set to not allow it already. I’m not sure if it’s the default or if I set it sometime in the past.

      • Exactly

  • My kids don’t use Instagram but I certainly do! I’m hoping they reconsider, because it’s been a fun outlet for me, but for now I’ll be using the new Flickr app instead. Changed my bio there as well.

  • But CC — here’s where I get confused by the new TOS….

    “Instagram does not claim ownership of any Content that you post on or
    through the Service. Instead, you hereby grant to Instagram a
    non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable,
    sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or
    through the Service, except that you can control who can view certain
    of your Content and activities on the Service as described in the
    Service’s Privacy Policy, available here:”

    does the last part, “except that you can control….” NOT mean that if your account is private, your images will remain private, ie, Instagram could use them in ads that appear to your friends but not to someone who isn’t an approved follower?

    • I’m a lawyer so I don’t know, but every report I’ve read from journalists and other sites point to no.

      Obviously Instagram/Facebook have to got to come forward and clearly spell out what it means. I’m hoping they do that and do it soon.

      FEW of us are lawyers, so we can’t say exactly what it means. WAY to much gray matter.

      • Dear God I hope we’re not relying on journalists to figure it out 😉

        But it sure would be a great blog post from an actual attorney. Can you imagine the RT’s he/she would get on that one!

      • Hey now, don’t pick on the journalists!

        But, I know what you are saying. Someone (hopefully from Instagram/FB) will come out and address this and all the issues in CLEAR and straight forward English.

  • I already dumped my account. There are now alternatives that are just as useful. This could actually be a boost for Flickr.

    • No doubt about it. This has been a HUGE boost to Flickr.

  • BewareoftheDoug

    The idea that a “private account” somehow protects folks when they send ANYTHING out over the Web is just plain dumb. Instead, teach your kids that the moment they hit SEND/ENTER, it’s “out there” forever and can be used for any purpose (i.e. you can’t control what someone else does with it, even if they’re a ‘trusted friend’ inside your happy little social network, and let’s not forget friends become enemies, etc.). This applies to anything, not just Instagram.

    • That is EXACTLY what I teach my kids, but I also teach them to be aware of terms of service like this because they need to be aware if they are giving away their rights or not before signing up to use a service.

      • BewareoftheDoug

        Sorry to say, but that’s wishful thinking. TOS on many sites is confusing even to adults, most of whom don’t even bother reading the fine print. And this assumes they’ll always be aware when TOS changes are made – case in point, your post is clearly what alerted many of us to that change (thanks for that, btw). I just think it’s far easier to pound into the kids’ noggins that electronically sending anything to anyone under any circumstances is tantamount to publishing it to a billboard outside their school. That tends to get my kids’ attention anyway 😉

      • Good point. Most don’t read.

        I loved that Instagram PUSHED this update directly to the news feed tab inside of the App. It is how I first found out about it and is where every user of the system goes so no excuses to miss it, but as you said most will never even read it or care.

  • designthatrocks

    Same scenario with my 12yr old daughter. Your post and insights are right on, and I applaud and agree with your stance. Unless Instagram changes this new policy, I will be cancelling her account as well.

  • Iris Johnson
    • Iris Johnson

      How to download Instagram photo’s and delete account.

  • Should we really be surprised, CC?

    After all, “The Evil I don’t give a crap about your kids or your privacy empire” owns it now.

    The Franchise King®

  • Pingback: Reaction of an Instagram FANatic - Both sides of the new TOS()

  • I too published a piece about what changes to the TOS could mean to users and I think that frankly, the result to parents with minors is the most worrisome.

    I linked to your post at the end of mine, CC. Thanks for sharing this. An important topic to be talking about IMO.

  • My daughter will be two years old and you can probably fine 5 pictures of her online. I have a separate website where family and friends can see her online as she grows.

    I am glad Instagram clarified what they where doing on another note I am still very skeptical on the pictures of kids appearing online.

    If your case your daughter wants to share pictures with her friends but sometimes I see that the parents are the one over-sharing images online of their kids without thinking of the consequences. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. This post sort of changed my mind on the aspect of allowing older kids to use platforms like instagram.

  • Great read.

    Instagram didn’t get the tone wrong:

    “…this is completely wrong. The Ts and Cs were absolutely clear, even if their content was controversial.

    By contrast, the ‘clarification’ is slippery, mealy-mouthed and contradictory.”

    Absolutely the best writing on what is happening.