You are the product, and your price is too low
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.
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.
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