What Developers Need to Know About Instagram’s Policy Changes

Developers who use Instagram’s API to build new products or services on the photo-sharing site may be giving their ideas away for free. Just ask the creators of Instamap.

In August 2012, Instagram released version 3.0 of its mobile app, which included a photo mapping tool that uses geo-tagging to display users’ images on a map.

The Photo Maps were beautiful additions to the image-sharing service that, unfortunately, had already been on the market for more than a year.

 

Ștefan Filip and Raul Andrișan of NextRoot in Timisoara, Romania had used Instagram’s API platform to build a nearly identical application called Instamap for iOS in 2011, which they sold on iTunes for $1.99.  ”Nobody at Instagram got in touch with us about the map control,” Andrișan said at the time. “Does it look similar to you, too?”

David of Rocket Developer, who did not provide his last name, said he had a similar experience with his free Android app, which was also called Instamap, on Google Play. “The Instagram team didn’t contact me for this new feature, which is kind of sad,” he said.

“Reminds me of the Twitter developer treatment,” David added, implying that Instagram is not the first company to mine its developer platform for ideas. ”The successful products (photo services, shorteners, or in my case, map view) just get replicated by the company and you can’t do anything about it, nor get contacted (or even get a job offer).”

The desire to be discovered — and possibly paid — for one’s expertise is part of the allure of building features on another platform. But it’s impossible to tell (or prove) from the outside what new services those companies might be working on already.

Instagram’s engineers may very well have come up with the photo maps on their own, but it’s unfortunate that their version has left the other two unable to compete: first, because Instagram’s photo maps are free, and second, because they’re built into the app. Both of the Instamaps require a separate download.

In Instagram’s new Terms of Use, which go into effect on January 16, 2013, the company has set the stage for the way it will handle gray areas that arise when people pitch them with ideas for new products or services. (Previously, the Terms did not address these issues at all.)

It is Instagram’s policy not to accept or consider content, information, ideas, suggestions or other materials other than those we have specifically requested and to which certain specific terms, conditions and requirements may apply. This is to avoid any misunderstandings if your ideas are similar to those we have developed or are developing independently. Accordingly, Instagram does not accept unsolicited materials or ideas, and takes no responsibility for any materials or ideas so transmitted.

It’s unclear what “content” or “other materials” include. The company added that people who pitch new products or services do so at their own risk:

If, despite our policy, you choose to send us content, information, ideas, suggestions, or other materials, you further agree that Instagram is free to use any such content, information, ideas, suggestions or other materials, for any purposes whatsoever, including, without limitation, developing and marketing products and services, without any liability or payment of any kind to you.

Granted, the terms do not address developers by name, nor do they mention the API specifically, but could they apply to applications that were built on Instagram’s platform?

The instructions for registering to use the API state:

Please login to your existing Instagram account to get started. To create an Instagram account, please register using the Instagram app on iPhone or Android. If you are not able to do so, please email a 2-3 line description of your intended use of the Instagram API to developer-signup at instagram.com.

That sounds like “content, information, ideas, suggestions or other materials” right there. And by building the applications, the developers are effectively creating a working prototype for the larger company to learn from.

And the larger companies all do it.

Facebook, which acquired Instagram earlier this year, says the same thing in its Terms of Service:

We always appreciate your feedback or other suggestions about Facebook, but you understand that we may use them without any obligation to compensate you for them (just as you have no obligation to offer them).

For comparison, so do LinkedIn’s Terms, which state:

By submitting ideas, suggestions, documents, and/or proposals (“Contributions”) to LinkedIn through its suggestion or feedback webpages, you acknowledge and agree that: (a) your Contributions do not contain confidential or proprietary information; (b) LinkedIn is not under any obligation of confidentiality, express or implied, with respect to the Contributions; (c) LinkedIn shall be entitled to use or disclose (or choose not to use or disclose) such Contributions for any purpose, in any way, in any media worldwide; (d) LinkedIn may have something similar to the Contributions already under consideration or in development; (e) you irrevocably assign to LinkedIn all rights to your Contributions; and (f) you are not entitled to any compensation or reimbursement of any kind from LinkedIn under any circumstances.

In other words, developers, if you want to keep an idea, keep it to yourself.

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