On December 18th 2012, popular photo sharing web service Instagram announced some modifications to their Terms of Service which caused a bit of uproar throughout its users. I think that many people got the wrong end of the stick with the new ToS, believing that Instagram would be allowed to sell users’ photos. After looking into the matter a bit myself I decided to remove my Instagram account, not a particularly difficult thing to do as I didn’t use it a great deal.
My issue with the Tos wasn’t that Instagram would be selling my photos, it was that as part of signing up to the service I had given permission for Instagram to use my photos in any way they please (to a point) without notifying me or providing some sort of remuneration. The offending clause, taken directly from their new (and subsequently removed) Instagram ToS:
After removing myself from Instagram it occurred to me that these changes were likely put in place to help the services’ ToS line up with those of Facebook, who had purchased Instagram earlier in the year. I was curious to see whether the Facebook ToS were the same. Sure enough, there is a clause that reads:
For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy andapplication settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.
So Facebook can use my intellectual property for whatever they want too, up until the point I delete my IP from the service. What about other social networks?
I looked into the ToS for Google, MySpace, 500px, Flickr and even WordPress. All have a similar clause, often worded slightly differently. In my opinion Google’s was the worst, Flickr’s the least bad.
Some people may have heard the quote from MetaFilter user blue_beetle that says simply “If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.” In today’s internet and social media based world this has never rung so true. All the free social networks that we sign up to, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Digg, MySpace, the list goes on, make money primarily through advertising and use data that you provide to let companies aim specific adverts directly at you.
At this point, I started realising that by deleting my Instagram account but continuing to use all my other social networking sites as I had done before would be acting pretty stupidly. It was going to be all or nothing, get shot of every social media account I use and revert to phone calls and letters for communication.
That was a daunting task.
I use Facebook a lot, I use Google’s services (which pretty much all come under the same ToS) and I dabble in other social networking options. Getting rid of all my accounts would be a massive task to accomplish and halt my communication with a lot of people. I had some thinking to do.
After much investigation and thought processes I came to the conclusion that the only IP that I have on my social networking sites (that I care about being distributed by others) are photographs. I enjoy photography, I’m not great at it but I spend time on my shots, I’m proud of my work and I would rather not give it freely to multi-national corporations. I am also not too keen on removing my web presence just yet. My initial conclusion to this would be to run my own server and host my own website, something that I do not have the time, money or knowledge to accomplish.
My final solution to the ToS is a simple one, in essence to take control of what I upload and where. I have the knowledge that certain sites can use my IP to their profitable advantage and as such, I can prepare myself for it and take control of what IP I give them. After a bit more research and thinking, I have come up with a system for myself.
I have already got a Flickr account but never really used it a great deal because I didn’t have a pro account. I will now pay for a pro account and it will be the sole web portal to upload and display my photographs.
The reason for choosing Flickr is that their ToS have an interesting and pleasing clause that reads:
With respect to photos, graphics, audio or video you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of the Yahoo! Services other than Yahoo! Groups, the license to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publicly perform and publicly display such Content on the Yahoo! Services solely for the purpose for which such Content was submitted or made available. This license exists only for as long as you elect to continue to include such Content on the Yahoo! Services and will terminate at the time you remove or Yahoo! removes such Content from the Yahoo! Services.
Flickr is owned by Yahoo, who break their ToS down a lot more, this is clause 9b. of their ToS, the bit that pleases me is the “solely for the purpose for which such Content was submitted or made available” sentence. To me, this stops them being able to profit from my photographs because that is not the purpose for my uploading of photographs.
Over the next few days I will be uploading photographs from the past two and a bit years to my Flickr account. In addition to this I have removed nearly all my photographs from Google+ and Facebook and will be closing my 500px account. The only photos remaining on Facebook and Google+ will be my recent 365 self portrait project, I can’t quite bring myself to lose all the comments from people.
I’m obviously still going to use social networking services and some photos might make their way to the services but I will be much more careful as to which ones.
I recently read that Instagram has lost 25% of its users since announcing the ToS and can’t help thinking that a lot of people have just jumped on the bandwagon and not looked into the ToS properly. After returning their ToS to the previous set, Instagram have now made it worse for its users’ IP and gotten away with it.
I don’t condone rashly deleting your social network presence, do it for the right reasons, not whatever the news/media is telling you. I urge everyone to read through the ToS for any social network that they are either signed up to or are about to sign up to and carefully consider whether you agree to every clause. These user agreements cannot be modified for you in the same way other contracts can be negotiated to suit all parties. Keep on top of any changes that are made to a company’s ToS and remember that you have control for whatever you upload to the web.
My Flickr account can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tomhoyle1985/