Instagram privacy lawsuit is nonsense say experts

As the faux furor over Instagram’s(s fb) user terms drags on like third day leftovers, it’s time to throw some cold water on one part of the story — the class action case that’s supposed to bring the photo-sharing service to heel.

In case you missed it, a San Diego law firm this week sought to run to the rescue of Instagram users who are upset that the site will change its terms of service in January. These new terms are meant to help Instagram introduce advertising practices akin to its new parent company, Facebook, which turn users into pitchmen for products.

The lawsuit, which came after weeks of uproar about the maladroit way in which Instagram rolled out the proposed changes, made for good headlines. Too bad, then, the case stands as much chance of success as that petition to deport CNN’s Piers Morgan.

Writing on Eric Goldman’s respected Technology and Marketing Law Blog, Seattle lawyer Venkat Balasubramani described the case as “flimsy,” “borderline frivolous” and “an example of lawsuits against social networks gone completely amok.”

Balasubramani, who tracks social media cases closely, points out that that the revised terms haven’t even gone into effect (meaning that users can simply leave) and that, in any case, Instagram has the right to change its terms of service if it darn well pleases. You can see the full take-down, including Goldman’s view, here.

So why are the good folks at Finkelstein & Krinsk law firm filing this case in the first place? My own hunch is that it’s a way for the firm to get on the radar as part of California’s growing cottage industry of privacy lawsuits. This involves law firms who wait for the latest privacy outrage, and then race each other up the courtroom steps to file a case. Next, they ask for Facebook (or whoever) to pay them as part of a “privacy settlement” which typically compensates lawyers and activists — but not the users whose privacy was breached. In this case, though, the only payout Finkelstein & Krinsk are likely to receive is a clobbering by Facebook’s veteran legal team.

Overall, the Instagram episode is just the latest example of the ritualistic cycle of complacency-outrage-resignation that occurs whenever users discover that websites like Facebook and Google(s goog) are providing a free service in exchange for advertising data.

(Image by ollyy via Shutterstock)