[Ed: I put a Paulina Gretzky Instagram photo up there because I'm a whore. This story is not really about her.]
Internet companies try to sneak shitty things by you all the time. Facebook famously was forced to settle with the Federal Trade Commission last year after it was caught making users' private information public—without bothering to tell its users. Google's terms of service say that it can use your content for all their existing and future services—without you knowing about it. And Twitter, in 2009, completely changed its copyright policy—without giving anyone more than a day-long heads-up. It's just become a fact of life when you sign up for an account with one of these exceedingly popular services that you might get screwed over one day. This is what we agree to in return for free and useful technology.
What Instagram did yesterday, though, goes beyond the pale in online douchebaggery. Via the New York Times:
You could star in an advertisement — without your knowledge.
A section of the new terms of service, titled “Rights,” notes that Instagram will also be able to use your photographs and identity in advertisements. “You agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you,” the new terms say. This means that photographs uploaded to Instagram could end up in an advertisement on the service or on Facebook. In addition, someone who doesn’t use Instagram could end up in an advertisement if they have their photograph snapped and shared on the service by a friend. Facebook already runs ads that make use of people’s activity on its site.
The Times goes on to say that even underage users of the site can be used for commercial purposes. And if you want to opt out of the service, you have to completely delete your profile. Of course, that doesn't help someone who doesn't even have an Instagram account, and who just happens to be in a picture that's uploaded to the app, but, hey, screw those people, right Instagram?
As you can tell, this is all a serious problem. And it sets a serious precedent. Without venturing too far into tin foil hat territory, what would stop the company from selling your photo to a governmental agency if it sees you engaged in illegal activity? Or, more realistically, is it really ethically okay for someone like Ms. Gretzky up there to advertise services they don't know anything about, just because they uploaded a picture online? I mean, I don't think Paulina would really care, but a lot of people do.
As you'd expect, all these questions turned into a huge ruckus online today, including starting a "hashtag movement" on Twitter. ("Hashtag movement"= the 21st century version of Thich Quang Duc setting himself on fire.) If you're angry, you can contribute to the "hashtag movement," or delete your account, or check out a different photo sharing service to use. Flickr would be happy to have you. This is actually what its company's blog said (unprovoked) today:
"All Flickr users own their photos and we have no plans to change this."
Shots fired, motherfucker.