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Instagram reverts to prior terms of service after user outcry

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New terms of service could spell the death of Instagram.Instagram

Instagram has abandoned wording in its new terms-of-service agreement that sparked outcry from users concerned it meant their photos could appear in advertisements.

In a blog post late Thursday, the popular mobile photo-sharing service says it has reverted to language in the advertising section of its terms of service that appeared when it was launched in October 2010.

Instagram is now owned by Facebook and maintains that it would like to experiment with different forms of advertising to make money.

Timeline

A look at key developments in Instagram's service.

-- April 3: Instagram, a photo-sharing social network accessed on smartphones, arrives on Android devices after starting out on Apple gadgets such as the iPhone.

-- April 9: Facebook announces plans to buy Instagram for $1 billion in cash and stock.

-- Aug. 22: Fed clears Instagram deal. Because of Facebook's falling stock price, the $1 billion deal drops to about $750 million.

-- Nov. 5: Instagram expands to the Web, though in limited form. 

-- Monday: Instagram announces new terms of service and privacy policy to take effect Jan. 16. Users and privacy advocates complain over Instagram's new assertion that it may now receive payments from businesses to use your photos, user name and other data "in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you."

Its blog post says that it will now ask users' permission to introduce possible ad products only after they are fully developed.

What had riled users and privacy advocates was Instagram's recent assertion that it may now receive payments from businesses to use its members' photos, user name and other data "in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation" to them.

Instagram didn't offer many details at the time. Its blog post on Monday made no mention of ads or other commercial activities, though it offered links to the new privacy policy and terms of service. Those documents spell out what the service could do, but say little about actual plans.

Instead, Instagram merely said the changes will help its service "function more easily as part of Facebook by being able to share info between the two groups." Facebook Inc. also recently updated its privacy policy to allow for more integration with Instagram.

"This means we can do things like fight spam more effectively, detect system and reliability problems more quickly, and build better features for everyone by understanding how Instagram is used," the earlier blog post said, adding that the updates also "help protect you, and prevent spam and abuse as we grow."

Facebook bought Instagram in September for $715.3 million, $300 million of it in cash and the rest in stock.

Instagram's  policy, which was set to take effect Jan. 16, suggested that Facebook wanted to integrate Instagram into its ad-serving system.

"These services are publicly advertised as 'free,' but the free label masks costs to privacy, which include the responsibility of monitoring how these companies sell data, and even how they change policies over time," said Chris Hoofnagle, director of Information Privacy Programs at the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology.

The fast-growing service has become a popular way to share photos from cellphones. The Instagram app, available for the iPhone and Android devices, offers a variety of filters to give photos a retro feel or other look. Although many other apps also offer filters for enhancing photos, they don't offer the sharing features and community aspects of Instagram.

Instagram has had a loyal following since before Facebook bought it. The purchase worried some of the earliest fans of the service, who feared Facebook would swallow up their beloved community.