Sharing your thoughts and comments through social media is now the accepted norm, and sharing photos is just as popular. Instagram, Flickr and Picasa are well established within the online photo-sharing community, which is exactly what most of users think they are for – sharing their favourite pictures with their community of friends and family. The images are shared under the impression they are still owned by the photographer and expected to stay that way, unless expressly agreed otherwise. If any other use is agreed, most people are likely to expect a form of acknowledgement and (possibly) remuneration. How would you feel if you suddenly found out that the holiday pictures of your children were being used in glossy holiday brochures, or the photos of your friends in Magaluf used in a campaign against binge drinking? Even the idea of sharing photos of your Christmas dinner may become less appealing, unless you don’t mind discovering one day that your cooking now advertises a restaurant you’ve never heard of.

The issue of a potential invasion of privacy came from the proposed changes to Instagram’s privacy policy announced earlier this week. Now owned by Facebook, Instagram’s plans have been withdrawn after a public outrage. The proposed changes are still worth considering, as there is nothing to guarantee they will not be reintroduced in the future.

Instagram announced on its blog on 17 December 2012 that it would introduce a number of changes to its policy, taking effect as of 16 January 2013. The changes were to give Instagram a perpetual right to sell users' photographs - without any payment or notification. This way, the service would turn into the world’s largest photo stock agency, where even the photographers are not notified about the use of their images. Moreover, if users continued to upload photos after the 16 January, and later deleted their account, the rights to use and sell the images would remain forever. These proposed changes immediately led to a public outcry, by celebrities and casual users alike. US CNN presenter Anderson Cooper, one of the lead singers of the band Blink-182, Mark Hoppus and actress Tiffani Amber Thiessen (famous for her performance in series Beverly Hills, 90210) were amongst many others who immediately took to Twitter in protest.

The proposed changes were very draconian, particularly in comparison to the privacy policies used by other photo-sharing communities, such as Picasa (owned by Google) and Yahoo’s Flickr. Both of Instagram’s competitors claim to offer protection of the ownership rights of the users, and state that they will only use the photographs for the purpose in which they were intended. Instagram is not the first company to attempt to utilise user’s content without their explicit permission. In 1999, Yahoo claimed the rights to text and photos submitted by users of its web hosting service GeoCities. History appears to have repeated itself as Instagram backed down after public protest, just like Yahoo did 13 years ago.

Instagram was very quick to respond to the outrage, and released a statement promising to remove the controversial wording just one day after the proposed new policy was first published. However, the users have no means of making sure that the changes will not return in the future. In the meantime, remember to set your Instagram privacy settings to “private” and enjoy posting your photos – at least until the next privacy policy apocalypse!