No one reads the terms of service during when updating apps. What’s more, everyone knows they should. Tucked away in acres of boilerplate and legalese are sometimes, if not always, some really alarming revelations about what certain services can do with your information. There’s even an old South Park episode parodying this very issue (as well as The Human Centipede). Last week some people tried to raise red flags about some scary stuff buried in an Instagram update, which went live on Sunday. One of those people was no less than Madonna Louise Ciccone, better known to you as simply Madonna.
The pop goddess took to Instagram on Saturday, hoping to warn people about an update mere hours before it went into effect. “Starting tomorrow,” she said in a video, “Instagram’s new cyber surveillance policies allow Mark Zuckerberg to spy on you and your family, steal your most intimate secrets and monitor your compliance with government mandates through all your devices – including your television – and sell your data to government and industry or punish you for disobedience.” She added, “This is some scary s*it.”
Mind you, she didn’t go into detail about how the new update does…well, any of this. But she’s far from the only person who’s singled out the December 20th update as a harbinger of worse things to come. Some highlighted some densely and vaguely worded business about what Instagram can do with the pictures you post on their service.
You are consenting them to use your pictures and send them to anybody, you’re allowing them to access your card payment details and allowing them to see what you’ve spent online, and they can now take legal action on you for posting something they don’t like
— Goddess (@MazvitaJames) December 13, 2020
Some pointed out that one section implies that your username can’t also be your own personal url, which could affect bloggers and small businesses.
Just popping something on here due to the new Instagram terms of service on the 20th Dec. If your username on Instagram is the same as your domain name then your account could be disabled. I confirmed this with Facebook business support. I know this will affect us bloggers! pic.twitter.com/vnkax7ajus
— Kate (@bargainbeautyhb) December 17, 2020
One issue, which Madonna did not highlight, is how it could affect sex workers. When the ToS in the update was first made public, those in the industry worried that Instagram — which is owned by Facebook, who forbid sexually explicit or even implicit content — would start deleting their accounts, which they use to attract clients. In fact, social media is often the way they first interact with clients.
remember to boycott instagram on december 20th bc the updated terms of service actively discriminate against sex workers! social media censorship and deplatforming during a global pandemic deprives users of alternative avenues of income, and by extension, is inherently violent. pic.twitter.com/VYGuA213B6
— lily (@lilsticles) December 19, 2020
Instagram did respond to the concerns, telling Mashable: “that the new terms are focused on clarifying how the app uses data to serve personalized ads; what data advertisers receive; and licensing and IP usage. They did not change any of the language around the posting of sexual or suggestive content.” They also posted an explanatory tweet.
We made some changes to our Terms to make them easier to understand; for example, we’re providing clearer language on how we use data to personalize ads. You can find them here (https://t.co/7cKfaLaKmn) and they apply to everyone on Instagram. (2/2)
— Instagram Comms (@InstagramComms) December 16, 2020
And yet a number of sex workers came forward, accusing Instagram of already targeting their accounts, sometimes deleting them multiple times. Even sex educators, including tantric coaches and professional Dommes, have claimed to have been targeted.
While Instagram’s posts have tried to calm nerves, it hasn’t entirely worked. When Mashable asked them about removing accounts that link to OnlyFans, which has been popular with sex workers, they received some jumbled rhetoric: “We don’t take action simply because accounts post OnlyFans links, we take action if these links are shared alongside content attempting to share or offer sexual materials, or coordinate sexual encounters between adults.”
It’s the kind of impenetrable word salad that George Orwell once warned against; after all, as he argued, being unclear, or even just boring, is a tried-and-true way to screw people over. You can read the full new Terms of Service right here. It may or may not contain some of the grim shenanigans against which Madonna warned, but we may not know for sure until accounts start vanishing en masse.