“…photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe. They are a grammar, and even more importantly, an ethics of seeing.” —Susan Sontag, On Photography

Dear Instagram,

I knew when you sold us to Facebook for a billion dollars (at the time), things would change. But I didn’t want to believe it. I like you. You are one of the most amazing online experiences I’ve ever had. (Yes, Instagram, you’re that good). I remember first meeting you in the backseat of a taxi a few weeks before launch. Mike Krieger and I were sharing a ride across town when he told me about the new startup he was working on with a friend. When I first heard the words to the effect, “kind of like a Twitter but using images,” I knew we had to meet. And a few weeks later, sure enough, we started hanging out together. A lot. I’ve never fallen so hard for an app like you.

You nailed what so few Silly Valley products do: an engaging, simple experience that wowed my social, journalistic, emotional, and photographic needs. You had earnest cofounders dedicated to my experience. Instagram, you were a giver. And because of that we all fell in love with you. You brought out the best in us and fostered a beautiful family along the way.

But now? What has happened now? With the money making details of the Facebook model trickling out, you’ve pimped out your family. You want to open our apertures as wide as they will go and sell what you see to the highest bidder. Soon, every corporate Dick, Jane, and Harry can re-sample us for their profit.

I get it that advertising is often a “necessary evil” to obtain a free service. I am no stranger to Facebook. I figured you’d eventually start to serve me ads, but I never, never thought you would think to serve me and all my personal expression AS the ad. All my photos and online activity can be combined and re-packaged to advertise anything to anyone?

Instagram, you didn’t realize how great you are. You encouraged us to explore our world, find its beauty, document its pain, and meet amazing people along the way.

Without you, I wouldn’t have connected with an expat cat-lover living in France, who it turns out, went to the same art school as I. Are you going to sell that?

Without you, I wouldn’t have met the Australian musician who’s appreciation of my photos has cheered me on many a challenging day. Is that for sale?

Without you, I wouldn’t have had some fascinating conversations with the middle class Muslim mother of two in Indonesia. Is that for sale?

You encouraged me to share. Among the many things I offered up, are photos of my very old and sweet cat. Will these photos be used in cat food ads that I see after he passes away?

What about my friend who shared photos of her brother who almost died this year? What will you do with the touching image of her grandmother crouched over his wheelchair holding him so tight. Sell it to the highest bidder?

Instagram you have been such a good, honest communicator; I can’t fault you for that. Your transparency illuminates me and hurts you. Yesterday I read your new Terms of Service. I read them all and that was a first. They were so well organized and well written; you didn’t hold back letting me know changes were happening. I thank you for that.

Because I like you so much, I want to trust that it will be okay. That the section that says all my activity can be used for ads without my knowledge and consent won’t be so bad. Surely in practice it will be less malignant than it appears? Is the intention to use my work to get more Instagram users or is it to sell anything for a profit? Will my Instagram photos appear on the web sites my friends visit and follow them around from page to page? Why do you want to trick us with ads disguised as posts? Is a “trick-click” worth it?

Instagram, is it too late to go back to how things were? This whole new relationship we’re embarking on in early January worries me and I might need to end it. Maybe if we had talked more about our feelings for each other, we would have realized just how serious it was. I would have easily “joined” you for $20 a year. Evernote and I have a similar arrangement and just last week Pandora and I took it to the next level.

You are hanging out with a new crowd now. I know Facebook. I have a good time with Facebook too, although I behave differently there. But to you, I gave my whole heart. We dallied in art, color, composition, light, life. You elevated the art of the caption to poetry, comedy, pathos, and pop.

André Kertész said, “The camera is my tool. Through it I give a a reason to everything around me.”

Please don’t use everything I’ve given you to make a buck. Serve me ads if you must, but don’t serve me as the ad.

with love,

“Anything an be separated, can be made discontinuous, from anything else; all that is necessary is to frame the subject differently….Conversely, anything can be made adjacent to anything else.” —Susan Sontag, On Photography

This is cross-posted on Medium.

UPDATE: Instagram posted an apology and response later in the day asserting that they have no intention of selling use of our photos to advertise products. This whole debacle has certainly brought up the brittle sense of trust we have these days with online services that rely on us, the community to “be the product.”