Oh dear oh dear, Instagram, bad move. As widely reported elsewhere in the past 24 hours, the biggest photo-sharing platform on the planet – acquired some months ago for $1bn by Facebook – has released new T&Cs. From their blog it looks like a good thing: “our updated terms of service help protect you, and prevent spam and abuse as we grow.” Bravo!

Except it’s not. There’s a couple of important points hidden here under the ‘Rights’ section:

Some or all of the Service may be supported by advertising revenue. 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. If you are under the age of eighteen (18), or under any other applicable age of majority, you represent that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to this provision (and the use of your name, likeness, username, and/or photos (along with any associated metadata)) on your behalf.

You acknowledge that we may not always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such.

Quite a few journalists have pointed out this gives Instagram the rights to monetise your photos without any compensation – C|Net have the best article on it that I’ve seen so far. Bad times.

Of course what you might say is “hah, who’s interested in my holiday snaps?”. I suspect Internet blogger Poppy Dinsey asked the same question before her blog images were hijacked to advertise a porn site. It happens, and it could happen to your photos, crap filters and all. And in a rare invocation of think of the childrennnnnnn it could happen to pics of your kids too. Heck, a friend’s just pointed out that if you’ve popped up some photos and you happen to be a teacher, you’ll now be in flagrant breach of the DPA too (although what part I don’t know, I haven’t investigated that yet).

Being pragmatic here, I think it’ll get retracted or at least an opt-out added – it’s not the first photo hosting service to have tried this. But just in case they don’t, Wired have published steps to downloading then removing your Instagram account.

More concerning is that this sets a precedent for Facebook: There’s been rumours about them doing it for a while (and that’s all they’ve been – rumours) but given who owns Instagram I can only think it’s a matter of time before the rumour become reality despite denials in late November. That for me is the bigger worry: as a photographer I use Facebook to promote my work. My images are of suitably low resolution and are watermarked (most of the time), but even with that ‘protection’ I don’t want to worry that Facebook will put that into an advert – that’s what people pay me for.

Finally, it feels like it’s a blow for the whole ‘cloud’ concept. If a company can retrospectively apply copyright (Instagram’s T&Cs will come into effect in January but apply to your entire image archive) then what hope for other cloud providers? Will Dropbox do it? What about Flickr? YouTube? Tumblr? For creative people will the only ‘safe’ option now be to run your own site?

What a mess. I’m so glad I’m not in that industry any more.

Update: BBC News have an article about it now.