What Instagram did wrong

Yesterday, Instagram announced an update to their Terms of Service, and before too long users were up in arms and started deleting their profiles. What happened that caused this furor?

The media reports on Instagram’s updated Terms of Service claimed that Instagram would now own, and have the ability to sell, your photos and your likeness for advertising purposes. With no way to opt out of this, many users, obviously in disagreement with these terms, started deleting their profiles in protest.

However, today Instagram issued a new press release, stating very expressly that this was not the intent of their new Terms of Service, and that this whole situation was caused by bad language on their part.

But bad language is not the full extent of what they did wrong. Bad language is merely a symptom of the bigger mistake they made. Their failure lies in not acknowledging—or understanding—the change in expectations that took place amongst their users when they sold themselves to Facebook for a billion dollars.

As a scrappy, small startup you get a lot of sympathy and the benefit of the doubt from your users. You’re simply not expected to have all of your shit together. But once you sell for $1 billion, you’re expected to have a certain amount of capital available to run your business (much) more maturely.

But Instagram didn’t elevate their service to match this new billion-dollar company image they had attained. These new Terms of Service, if indeed written poorly by accident, prove as much.

Furthermore, once you sell to a frequently-criticized juggernaut like Facebook, users’ expectations change from supportive to skeptic, and, especially because of Facebook’s long history of privacy-related mishaps, you may very well lose all benefit of the doubt amongst some of your users.

Instagram failed to acknowledge that many of their user understandably expected the worst from a situation like this, after the Facebook acquisition. That’s a mistake I hope they won’t make again, as I still adore the product and have several friends pouring their heart and soul into it. But we’ll see, when they release their new Terms of Service sometime in the near future. Benefit of the doubt only lasts for so long.

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