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Posting & Privacy: Decoding Instagram's Terms of Use

January 23rd, 2017

By Talia Rodwin, AWARE® Intern

The internet is simultaneously extremely public and very private. Teens especially share intimate details about themselves with large groups of acquaintances or even strangers, using the internet and social media to publicly post personal experiences as a means of connecting with others. But what about the information they do want to keep private? How much do teens know about their security and privacy protection rights online? Apparently, very little. This is largely due to dense and inaccessible terms and conditions sections of the apps and sites they use. 

In January 2017, “Growing Up Digital,” a U.K. task force convened by the Children’s Commissioner for England, released a report that studied teens’ interactions with Instagram’s Terms of Use. Teens thought it was “boring” and were unable to recognize their rights “due to the sheer amount of writing and the lack of clarity within the document.” Their lack of comprehension posed a serious concern. Teens had no idea that Instagram could distribute and make money off their photos without notification or consent. They also had no idea that Instagram could read their direct messages.

One member of the task force, Jenny Afia, decided to sift through the over 5,000 words of Instagram’s Terms of Use and created a more concise and readable version so that users, especially teens, would have a clear understanding of their rights on the app. Afia’s version includes easy-to-understand rules, such as:

  • “Don’t bully anyone or post anything horrible about people.” 
  • “Officially you own any original pictures and videos you post, but we are allowed to use them, and we can let others use them as well, anywhere around the world. Other people might pay us to use them and we will not pay you for that.” 
  • “Although you are responsible for the information you put on Instagram, we may keep, use and share your personal information with companies connected with Instagram. This information includes your name, email address, school, where you live, pictures, phone number, your likes and dislikes, where you go, who your friends are, how often you use Instagram, and any other personal information we find such as your birthday or who you are chatting with, including in private messages (DMs).”
At the close of 2016, Instagram announced that it had grown to more than 600 million users. How many of them really know their digital rights? Understanding their rights to privacy, or lack thereof, on social media is critical for teens to make informed decisions about how they access these platforms and promote their own agency in using these apps, as opposed to being manipulated by sites and other users. 

For the full simplified version of Instagram's Term of Use, read the Children's Commissioner report, "Growing Up Digital."

Source: “A lawyer rewrote Instagram’s terms of use ‘in plain English’ so kids would know their privacy rights”, Washington Post, 8 January 2017.

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