Our expectation that everything should be free is destroying the opportunity to be credited and paid for the works we create. Yes, I’m talking about Instagram.

Photo: Instagram!

Two days ago the social network announced that as of the 16th of January, its new terms of service allowed advertisers to pay Instagram for the use of your photo without ever having to pay royalties or even notify you that your image is being used.

This creates some really worrying concerns for users. A very wise person whose name I forget once said that if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product.

This is the basis for pretty much every social network and even Google. In exchange for a free service, we provide that service tons and tons of data which it then profits from by selling it to advertisers.

The backlash to Instagram’s new terms of service may just be the final straw in Facebook’s social media dominance (Instagram is owned by Facebook).

There has been a rather large question mark hanging over Facebook in terms of how it can make money. And with Instagram’s new terms of service, that question of how becomes clear.

They say a picture speaks a thousand words and nothing could be truer when it comes to Facebook advertising. Facebook can not only profit from the sale of your photos but of the metadata that comes with it.

Things like location and visual data become a selling point for Facebook, along with the visual content of your photo. With one picture Facebook and Instagram can know where you are, what you like, the kind of things you take photos of, the device you’re taking the photo with. And facial recognition used by Facebook can help identify the people in your photos.

There are thousands of people threatening to leave the service, so fed up are they of violating their rights as content creators.

The outrage may amount to nothing, only time will tell. But after the fury dies down, I think all social networkers need to think long and hard about their relationship to sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google +.

What users need to realise is that we are the product. Without its users, sites like Facebook wouldn’t exist. We have created this problem. We want to share everything about our lives online. But as the old adage goes, nothing comes for free.

It has come to a point where the wealthiest people in the world don’t really need to create anything. They simply place themselves between the content creator and the buyer knowing that people will create stuff for free voluntarily and hand over their content which they can then sell to the highest bidder.

This isn’t cutting out the middle man. They are the middle man. Facebook is the real estate agent of the online world. Really, any user with half decent photos, or data worth anything could approach marketers directly. But then they would have to get paid for the sale of their content.

It’s much easier to create a social network where everything posted is licensable, and royalty free.

We’re selling ourselves down the river. There are alternative ways for networks like Instagram to make money.

It could create a subscription service similar to the ones that Getty or Flickr offer, where if an advertiser wants to purchase or license your photo, then you get a cut of the profits, and a credit for its creation.

At the very least Instagram should feel obliged to notify users when advertisers want to use their images.

But in continuing to put up with dodgy terms of service, being temporarily outraged and then continuing to hand over our information without any bargaining power, we’re telling sites like Facebook and Instagram that they can continue to rip us off.

Social networking has systematically devalued all creative works. And we’ve allowed it to happen. Being the product has one upside – people power.

If people had any sense they would vote with their feet and leave the service until such time as Instagram or Facebook or any other site alters their terms of service.

Comments on this post will close at 8pm AEDT.

Most commented


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    • Beth says:

      10:41am | 19/12/12

      Instagram have already rescinded the changes.

    • Werner Kloper says:

      11:12am | 19/12/12

      This doesn’t diminish the fact they were still willing to sell/sub-license your content in the first place. Give them time to go over this with their lawyers. They will find a new way around it.

    • fish says:

      11:21am | 19/12/12

      Only because they’ve been caught out.

    • Budz says:

      12:51pm | 19/12/12

      They have been caught out? Do you seriously think they don’t know that hundreds of people read the TOS every time it gets changed?

    • Pedro says:

      01:23pm | 19/12/12

      What is instragram? Have I missed some techie thing that happened sometime between the Walkman and the ipad mini?

    • iansand says:

      10:42am | 19/12/12

      flickr still has relatively benign Terms of Service.  They make no claim to use your work beyond the boundaries of the site.  That does not prevent theft, of course, but you have not agreed to lie down and let it happen nor have you agreed to let Yahoo make a dollar out of your work.

    • AdamC says:

      10:46am | 19/12/12

      If I were in charge of Facebook/Instagram, I would definitely tell people when some advertiser paid to use their photo. It would be a bit of bragging rights for the user, at least. (Of course, I expect many advertisers and others would simply pay a fee for some kind of floating right to use piccies at random. Like stock photos.)

      Anyway, I see letting social media providers use your photos, data, etc, as simply consideration for access to the service. It hardly seems like a big deal. As for this latest bout of online preciousness from a noisy subset of social media users, I suspect it will be the usual flash in the pan.

    • Gary says:

      12:01pm | 19/12/12

      Wow AdamC you are a champ, what a stupid statement. With the terms of service Instagram are trying to bring in. They could efectively do whatever they want with my photos. So if an advertiser uses a harmless everday photo of, lets say your wife/partner/girlfriend/daughter for a std awareness campaign you would be cool with that? didnt think so.
      Its not just about colelcting and using my data for custom advertising, im cool with that i understand everyone has to make a buck. But not having any control over your photos and what happens to them or how they are used, should ring alarm bells.

    • Meph says:

      12:39pm | 19/12/12


      You must be new to the internet, welcome!

      One of the greatest swindles in human history has been to sell people on the idea that they have any control over what they put on the internet. Absolutely nothing stops someone from browsing instagram or other image based sites right now, downloading the same image of your “wife/partner/girlfriend/daughter” and run a regional print campaign for STD awareness right now.

      For those who want to shout about activex controls to block right clicks, keep in mind that by the very nature of viewing a photo, a copy now exists in your internet cache for reproduction and/or redistribution.

      The old adage still remains: If you don’t want it to be public, don’t upload it.

    • iansand says:

      12:41pm | 19/12/12

      As a person whose photos appear here and there around the Internet, I can assure you that “bragging rights” are pretty poor recompense.  My photos are free to non-profits (Creative Commons licence) but if someone wants to make a buck out of my work I want a slice of that buck.

    • Philosopher says:

      12:52pm | 19/12/12

      iansand: ‘As a person whose photos appear here and there around the Internet’... so why on earth did you shoot that giraffe? What were you thinking?

    • A Concerned Citizen says:

      01:11pm | 19/12/12

      There is another word for that AdamC- THEFT.

      Having said that, the moral to this story is simple- Instagram (and Facebook by extension) are thieves- don’t use them, and definitely do not upload any material that you would rather retain ownership of.

      Of course, all countries should agree to put a ban on;
      -Aggregating material without the original person’s permission for the entire explicit list of intended uses/buying rights to the image NOR crediting the source any which way.
      -Advertising on websites that use user-submitted material unless the user signs up for advertising and is getting a cut out of it. If you want to argue the site is entitled to an exemption for providing a medium for the user to advertise their products, at the very least, limit this ban to ads that disrupt viewing.

    • Joe says:

      10:55am | 19/12/12

      Online users need to be vigilant and not just put up with any dodgy terms of service. Unfortunately Facebook is the old frog slowly boiling in a pot story. We complain for a few days and they accept it until they raise the bar again and we complain briefly again… The other worry with Facebook is them selling our personal information and profiles to governments which I am told they do. This can be a real problem in non democratic countries with ruthless dictators.

    • dancan says:

      10:55am | 19/12/12

      “There are thousands of people threatening to leave the service”

      This makes me laugh the most.  oh no not “threatening to leave”! The horror! This is nothing more than a whinge, facebook doesn’t and won’t care unless they actually leave, which won’t happen because if these people had a spine they would have left already

    • andye says:

      10:59am | 19/12/12

      The Instagram thing is a storm in a teacup. The new terms are more restrictive than the old ones and do not allow Instagram to do half the things people are claiming.

    • Kika says:

      11:02am | 19/12/12

      Well, I’m deleting the apps. What a crock of sht.

    • 9 for 67 says:

      12:17pm | 19/12/12

      deleting the apps does nothing.
      You have to delete your account.

    • Tubesteak says:

      11:04am | 19/12/12

      If you don’t like it then don’t use it

      I don’t see how advertisers are going to be all that interested in thousands of pictures of sepia toned dinners

      But this does illustrate to people that whinge about the demise of manufacturing that the future of business is in providing services. Facebook and Google don’t produce tangible products but they are both billion companies in their own right. This is the future. Leave manufacturing to second world countries where labour is cheap and concentrate on things like this instead. No need to hand them billions in taxpayer dollars but they still employ a lot of people and those people pay taxes, have mortgages and go shopping

    • James says:

      11:20am | 19/12/12

      What a strange article. So the photos you post using a free service may be used by the company providing the service. Pretty good deal if you ask me. So my photo of my afternoon corona may end up selling, what… Corona. Ok sure go for guys. Or should I be up in arms because they may use my face for a product I don’t particularly endorse. Seriously? I’m sure there are worse things in life than being able to add “professional Instagram model” to my CV. Yeah let’s all leave Facebook guys. They’re raping us with their free service.

    • James says:

      11:28am | 19/12/12

      This will affect less than 1% of users as most people (myself included) post absolute drivel.

    • Philosopher says:

      11:43am | 19/12/12

      First vaginas, now private pictures: everything’s for sale.

    • Daylight Robbery says:

      11:44am | 19/12/12

      Facebook own Instagram. If your upset about Instagram you need to check Facebooks terms or at least read an article about its terms and conditions.

      Unfortunately this isnt just making money out of the advertising. This is selling the details subscribers to the newspaper and all the personal details of anyone who has advertised in a newspaper to a global market.

      There is free newspapers that make money out of advertising without selling what you thought was private because you know you wont understand the 6 pages of legal in ultra fine print.

      Those Facebook images of your kids are now in the global public domain in some back ally data silo probably in India.

      In 10 years people will be a little different in their views of putting pictures of their kids akin to posting them in a shopping centre mall.

    • Last Man Standing says:

      11:58am | 19/12/12

      Last week my partner decided she would air her discontent with picking some items of mine off the floor on a social media site.
      I pointed out what I had been doing for her that day.
      I never thought she would be so stupid as too do this let alone not tell me. 
      She is a legal secretary. 
      Ive moved to the other bedroom.
      She wont be having a nice christmas.
      What she hasn’t realised that not only did she make a fool of herself.
      The comments she thinks she deleted, are not deleted and kept forever for our divorce case in the future.
      I can just get the lawyer to have them retrieved for a fee.

    • Simon says:

      12:48pm | 19/12/12

      The comments will be irrelevant in a divorce case. We have had no fault divorce in Australia since 1976.

    • Wayne Kerr says:

      01:18pm | 19/12/12

      Plus I’d just by-pass the Lawyer.  Tell her it’s over, divvy up the assets down the middle, sell the house.  Note down your separation date and tell all your friends,  In 12 months time, download the divorce application kit, fill it out, get her to sign it and away you go.  I’ve just saved you several thousand dollars in legal fees.  You can send me the money instead at…..

    • ChrisW says:

      12:26pm | 19/12/12

      Personally I am great deal more bothered by the terms and conditions that agents and publishing companies offer authors.
          “Don’t like the terms and conditions, publish it yourself,” people will say. If you have a reasonably good command of the e-publishing business you can go ahead and publish pretty much any drivel you like. That harms all authors but especially those who go the traditional route, do the hard job of selling their books to an agent, work sensibly with the editor, do all the other work involved - including most of their own publicity - just so they can say they have been published by a “reputable” agent.
      Having a photograph or two which has taken a few minutes to take and upload “borrowed” or “stolen” might be the thin end of the wedge but it hardly represents the same sort of effort.

    • The Free says:

      12:35pm | 19/12/12

      Instagram deleted.  Done, simple.  I don’t accept their conditions.

      Each to their own decision, at least they give you an informed choice.  My choice is no way Jose and Jose agrees.

    • Frank says:

      12:46pm | 19/12/12

      Maybe all of you instagrammers bitching and moaning about it should have voted against the changes on Facebook when they put them up…#justsayin

    • Nostromo says:

      02:31pm | 19/12/12

      Very simple solution folks: it’s called your C: drive, or whatever hard drive, USB stick/drive or NAS you prefer where you can keep your pics/files locally & backed up.

      As an IT prof of 30 years I’ve never had a *need* to get onto FB, Twitter or G+ (though I have a couple empty, dead FB accounts & a totally separate G+ with like 2 friends that I played around with for an hour when it was all the rage lol!).

      If you feel like you have a real *need* to be on these social networking/media sites, I would strongly suggest you need to to re-evaluate your life, priorities & world views. And making a career/business out of reducing the sum total of human wisdom & knowledge using social net/media is no excuse either, I’m sorry to have to say.

      Allowing our sheepy selves to become ‘the product’, while surrendering all of our privacy, dignity & individuality as a result is a deal with the devil I, for one, will not be making in this lifetime.

    • andye says:

      03:07pm | 19/12/12

      @Nostromo: “If you feel like you have a real *need* to be on these social networking/media sites, I would strongly suggest you need to to re-evaluate your life, priorities & world views”

      30 years in IT, you say?

      I have been in IT almost as long without managing to turn into a dinosaur.

    • Jaqui says:

      03:48pm | 19/12/12

      Ha sucked in hipsters, thanks for punishing us for so long with these crappy instagram pictures of your food.

      I suppose we have to be cheerful that you hadn’t gotten to taking photos of your food the next day.

    • Jack says:

      04:56pm | 19/12/12

      everything should be free ....
      everything is already free for the illegal boat people.
      everything is already free for our elected members of parliament
      and the battlers and the working families are the only ones who get screwed WHY?

    • Ted says:

      05:42pm | 19/12/12

      They say a picture speaks a thousand words and nothing could be truer when it comes to you.

      You are the product of the crooked system, and your price is you become worseless and irrelevant after each election.

      They should leave the service immediatly or nothing will change

      If people had any sense they would vote with their feet and vote informal until they become sovereign and not the slave of the system.


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