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Who Owns Your Digital Life?

Online privacy changes and Instagram. Who owns your digital life?

Instagram is a popular photo-sharing social network.

Instagram is a popular photo-sharing social network.

Wild uproar this week in the world of Instagram – the digital photo-sharing app that’s had a hundred million users flooding smartphones with snapshots of their breakfast, their kids, their boyfriend’s new haircut.  On Monday, Instagram – the overnight sensation that Facebook bought for a billion dollars – announced a change in terms of service.

And it looked like they were going to let advertisers slap your photos into any ad they wanted.  Like they owned your face.  Your kid’s.  Your photo life.  Insta-world went nuts.

This hour, On Point:  the Instagram uproar, and who owns your digital life.

-Tom Ashbrook


Alexis Madrigal, senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology channel.

Justin Brookman, director for Center for Democracy and Technology’s Project on Consumer Privacy.

Richard Koci Hernandez, an Emmy-winning photographer and assistant professor at the Berkeley School of Journalism.

From Tom’s Reading List

Slate “Here we go again. “Instagram says it now has the right to sell your photos,” writes CNET, in a post that has been shared on Facebook an almost unfathomable 750,000 times and counting in one day. Cue utter, abject freakout from the tech blogosphere. “Instagram has some nerve,” fumes ZDNet. “Not cool bro,” huffs VentureBeat. Wired publishes a piece of service journalism entitled, “How to Download Your Instagram Photos and Kill Your Account.” Instagram users start doing exactly that, in droves. One labels the Facebook-owned photo-sharing service’s new terms of use “Instagram’s suicide note.“”

C-Net “That means that a hotel in Hawaii, for instance, could write a check to Facebook to license photos taken at its resort and use them on its Web site, in TV ads, in glossy brochures, and so on — without paying any money to the Instagram user who took the photo. The language would include not only photos of picturesque sunsets on Waikiki, but also images of young children frolicking on the beach, a result that parents might not expect, and which could trigger state privacy laws.”

New York Times “Facebook and Instagram have both hinted at plans to incorporate advertisements into Instagram’s application, although they have declined to provide details about how and when ads would be deployed. These freshly drafted terms give the first glimpse of what the companies might have planned. Here’s a quick rundown of what the new terms, the most significant changes in Instagram’s short history, could mean for users.”

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  • Shag_Wevera

    Aw this one’s easy.  My wife, my employer, my kids, the guys with the black helicopters, my techy neighbor who knows how to invade my digital universe through my wi-fi…

    There ARE others, I just can’t remember all of them.

    • Ellen Dibble

      Maybe it’s a survival skill to have years of living with a touch of the paranoid.  Either you live in a very locked-down state, within channels that allow for no leakage, or you sort of launch.  I’m thinking the younger generation has “sort of launched” from an early age.  Their concept of what is private is interesting to me.  What I had for breakfast is everyone’s business, everyone who cares.  But what I think about this or that?  “About politics and religion, health and education — leave all that to the professionals.  I have no words or thoughts.  No memory even.”   Even in thoughts, we are oh, so careful.  The little green people might read it.

  • rick evans

    All your business are belong to Zuck.

  • IsaacWalton

    I can’t believe the audacity of these young companies that believe they can do whatever they want. I’m dumping all of my photos off of instagram and getting a blog then linking to my facebook page. 

    So does wordpress own my original short novels I write on my blog?

    Canon doesn’t OWN the photos I take, nor does Apple. A printing company doesn’t OWN the book once it’s printed. Ridiculous.

  • DrewInGeorgia

    Internet Privacy is an oxymoron.

    We have no right to complain about lacking what we willingly give away.

  • Wahoo_wa

    Am I the only one totally over Instagram?  It’s become such a tired cliche already.

    • IsaacWalton

      I am now officially with you. Just dumped my photos from instagram (and they weren’t grainy crappy photos). Even if this change amounts to anything…I just hate the fact that they even tried it.

  • geraldfnord

    I heard, probably on A.P.M.’s “Marketplace”, someone say, ‘Well, they have to turn a profit, so this is how they’ll do it.’  This is the argument coal-mine owners used to use for hiring ten-year-old ‘breaker boys’, and damn the fact that a lot of them lost limbs.  (Sorry to get over-dramatic: ceding some rights to a snap of your cat is usually a lot less damaging than ceding an arm to the clinker-chute…but if we’re to retain any privacy at all, and any real rights to actually ‘own’ the digital entities which for ecological reasons alone will soon be our most important possessions, we shall have to fight hard and start yesterday.)

    If a firm’s only way to be viable involves a gross violation of standards, and especially of rights, it should ‘die’, rather than society allow itself to be degraded by frequent connexion with it.  And when faced with this choice, most firms suddenly slap their foreheads and cry, ‘Oh! I’ve just thought of another, decent way to make money…that other thing wasn’t necessary in the least.’  That is to say, I have faith in the Market’s adaptability, and none at all in its morals.

  • IsaacWalton

    Question, should we WATERMARK our images to prevent their use or to at least CREDIT the photographer? 

  • IsaacWalton

    Yes professional photographer…does the WEBSITE company that sold you the blog to post your photos OWN your photos?

  • Scott B

    Too many kids today don’t know their rights, the law, nor have  sense of privacy.  One survey showed that a majority of young people thought the government had a right to censor anything it wanted.

    Now we have generations of people, grand mas to grand kids, that think nothing of putting their every image and personal detail online without thought about privacy or security.

    It’s a shame.

  • WBC_in_MA

    This requires federal legislation, NOW!  Pictures, emails, attachments, documents, etc. should be completely owned and controled by the individuals that put them out on the web.  If law enforcement wants access to any of this, they should be forced to get a warrant.  If host providers want to build a profile of likes and dislikes of a user, I suppose that’s OK … as long as they keep their paws off of the above “raw” data.

  • IsaacWalton

    Richard is a small segment. Why not turn facebook/instagram into a micro (macro) stock site? Users take photos, elect to have their photos considered and they get .0000001 percent if the photo is chosen for use by a company.

  • WBC_in_MA

    Personally, I would pay for a platform that would NOT touch my data and also NOT pass my name on to any ad agency.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1161063937 Casta Lusoria

    On the one hand, Instagram says, “YOU still own your images!”  But if you sell them to advertisers for their use without notifying me, compensating me, asking my permission…  you’re certainly not treating my images like I own them.  If you want to treat my images like stock photos– using my content royalty-free, transferably, sub-licensably, and worldwide…  Call that what it is.  The other objection I have is their refusal to identify advertising as advertising.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Is it the selling that matters?  If they used it in an ad without paying for it, how about that?

  • ToyYoda

    This could also be good news.  I think there should be a cost paid for exposing your friends to the boring minutiae of your life.

  • http://www.facebook.com/madeline.vann Madeline Roberts Vann

    I am always surprised that people think what they post online – anywhere – is private!! In old school terms, Instagram is a lot like tossing both your photograph and your film into a barroom full of strangers — and now, acting like you’re suprised that some strange drunk has taken your photo home with him. If you want control over your digital life and images, don’t put them online, anywhere.

    • nj_v2

      It’s not about privacy, it’s a matter of use.

      With intellectual property—such as a digital image, or, traditionally with film images, music, etc.—an agreement is made between the author (maker) of the product and those that seek to use it.

      These agreements can range from outright purchase (unlimited use) to use for particular reasons, or for a certain length of time, or for just one instance.

      I don’t know how the Instagram agreement is structured (the show is two-thirds over, and they still haven’t expailned it, or maybe i missed it).

      It’s possible one could agree to post an image on one particular Web site, but not consent to have the image reproduced on another, commercial Web site.

      People who make part of all of their living from the generation and sale of use rights for creative products such as photos, videos, music, etc. are justifiably concerned with this, more so than the legions of smart-phone snapshooters that seem to have no reason to care about how their photos are used.

  • J__o__h__n

    Aren’t there more important internet controversies like annoying pop-ups?

  • Ellen Dibble

    Once upon a time, I thought of doing artwork, and found out that you cannot draw a dog, from a photograph in a book, without identifying (a) the dog and (b) the owner, and getting permission to draw that dog.  To me, I thought the dog would be unrecognizable, so who would know.  But there are all sorts of constraints, even preceding the internet.  Now, it seems we sort of throw it to the winds.  People seem happy to have their photos and posts shared.  Sometimes I ask, sometimes I just wait to see if they complain.  Nobody has.

  • http://twitter.com/kcortez kcortez

    Myself and many musicians I know were amazed that a generation that routinely steals digital content in the form of pirated MP3′s and movies – many of which took years and hard earned dollars to create -  is suddenly so up in arms when a company who provides a FREE service now threatens to sell pictures of what  you had for lunch. 

  • IsaacWalton

    Congratulations Instagram. You just turned facebook into a TEXTBOOK.

  • Steve_the_Repoman

    I work in a field where proprietary information is shared online/in the cloud and is often used inappropriately or without permission.

    I have been considering malicious virus attached to files for when they are shared w/o contract or renumeration. 

  • johnsloth

    What about copyright act of 1976 ?

  • bergea

    If Facebook users object to this new policy, they should start using the alternatives to Instagram for photography.  These include the PicsArt suite of photo apps in the Google Play marketplace.   These apps do not violate your rights to control your images.   

  • Scott B

    Maybe NPR or Tom could explain why there’s 6 tracker on this page alone, and what they do with that information. I do get that Disqus is one of them, but what are the other five doing, in particular Google, that uses and sells our info in all kinds of ways?

  • IsaacWalton

    Then why, for the love of God, do they offer sharing PRIVATE (Friends) or PUBLIC? If a photo is marked for FRIENDS only those photos should not be fair game. If you mark it PUBLIC then you INTEND for it to be public.

    • Ellen Dibble

      This seems such a no-brainer.  Does Instagram allow for making public or friends only?

  • IsaacWalton

    Dear anonymous…please come save us.

  • Ellen Dibble

    What if you unlike something?   Will they take down your photo?  I know during the campaign, I unliked Obama a couple of times in order to be able to like other things without having his picture bumped off my Fb page. (You can re-like things countless times, it seems.)  Unliking is pretty useful.

  • Scott B

    Nothing is ever free. There re always strings.

    Instagram should pay something for royalties of their going to sell images.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cecebar Cindy C Barnard

    People are sharing their photos online, typically their friends and their friends friends. And how many of our friends have we or will we ever meet? So strangers basically see our stuff, it’s bascially a billboard already.

    For all the talk about inbound marketing (non-invasive, opt-in, value-packed practices), the very platforms that helped burgeon inbound practices (like facebook, instagram) don’t use it themselves.

    I believe if social networks asked for your permission to use your photos (and allow you to opt-out of not using some photos) that people would be very willing to have their images used in ads!

    Really just look at what’s popular… “look at me reality tv, american idol!”

    And it turn for using the social platforms for free (and to help pay for the innovation, maintenance, etc…) users only get a small fraction of money if their images are used in ads.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chuck.kollars Chuck Kollars

    If the written legal words say one thing but the company says “we’re _really_ going to do something different”, don’t buy it. If it ever winds up in court, the written legal words are the only thing that will be there; that verbal modifying statement _won’t_.

  • bmad2012

    More aggregation of capital in America. The bit income that went to professional photographers/stock photo agencies will now go to Instagram/Facebook. Just as the income that once went to newspapers, printers, graphic designers etc. now gets funneled to the owners of Craigs List etc. Why let Instagram get away with this?

  • http://twitter.com/AmeliaBTS Amelia C Burkhart

    Plain and simple GREED. FB executives should have paid more mind to the Instagram business plan before they paid $1B for the App. At such a price tag it is clear they are in it to make money but its a bit late for them to backtrack now and revise the usage terms in their favor by exploiting the user base that made the App valuable in the first place. As an Instagram user I find it preposterous that FB should claim rights to my images and that of its global user base. The success of the App is based on the simplicity of sharing photos and creating a visually stimulating expression of one’s life and experiences – for Free. The new Terms of Service will thwart Creativity and squelch the enjoyment of its users. It is doubtful many people will willingly agree to be un-compensated for their intellectual property and the images “they own.” There is no gain for the amateur and professional users so why continue to participate under the revised terms to enable FB and its third parties to claim rights to content posted for their monetary and promotional gain. 

  • Scott B

    not that Facebook can’t pay people, it’s that they don’t want to.  Keep
    in mind that they, like Google and other huge internet co’s, spend a
    lot of time, effort, and money, trying to keep their money with tax
    shelters and other techniques. Zuckerberg himself has been taken to
    court how many times by people that helped bring Facebook into existence
    and didn’t even want to give them credit, let alone a piece of the
    money train.

    • jefe68

      Google has not paid taxes on 2 billion in profits.
      That’s a lot of money and yet they take advantage using the roads, police, fire departments and all the other things that our tax dollars pay for.

      These corporations are no better than AT&T or Verizon or any other large corporation. It’s all about them making a profit at any expense.

      • Scott B

        That’s just $2B that they know about.

        Google still stands by their motto of not doing any evil. But Google (and others) are following what so many others, when achieving great wealth, do in using laws (or influencing new ones) to keep from paying what would be their fair share if they were a private citizen of more modest means. That way they get to claim they’re good because they’re paying exactly what the law allows and calls for. Shades of Romney, huh?

  • http://twitter.com/AmeliaBTS Amelia C Burkhart

    Plain and simple GREED. FB executives should have paid more mind to the Instagram business plan before they paid $1B for the App. At such a price tag it is clear they are in it to make money but its a bit late for them to backtrack now and revise the usage terms in their favor by exploiting the user base that made the App valuable in the first place. As an Instagram user I find it preposterous that FB should claim rights to my images and that of its global user base. The success of the App is based on the simplicity of sharing photos and creating a visually stimulating expression of one’s life and experiences – for Free. The new Terms of Service will thwart Creativity and squelch the enjoyment of its users. It is doubtful many people will willingly agree to be un-compensated for their intellectual property and the images “they own.” There is no gain for the amateur and professional users so why continue to participate under the revised terms to enable FB and its third parties to claim rights to content posted for their monetary and promotional gain. 

  • Ellen Dibble

    I suppose what matters is whether everyone has a similar understanding of what’s private and what’s liable to be shared.  I care about this on an international basis, especially when the languages are very sketchily translated by Bing or when they aren’t translated at all.  International transparency is possible in ways it hasn’t been before.  We find President Obama being advised in a headline from the area of Bombay that he should “obey the laws of Allah” (to soothe his sorrow over Sandy Hook), which apparently reflects a feeling of shared ground, which I find enormously tender somehow — the fact it travels around share to share to me.  

  • carl_christian

    Sometimes I find myself sounding like a fundamentalist reactionary (pick your own brand – Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Zoroastrian…) because listening to this furor I keep thinking “Live without all the convenient free stuff in the digital world and Just Say No!” There’s plenty that’s great with the digital future but there’s plenty that needs to be rejected exactly as some old-time religious antediluvians would exhort us all to do in order to guard our souls.
    BTW> I am with Scott B. in a least raising the question — why does WBUR need to monitor so much on each web page? Resist the urge and trust that you know us all well enough without having to parse every last bit of data. Stop drinking that particular Kool-Aid.

  • http://twitter.com/en_b ian berry

    It’s not a privacy issue. It’s someone taking something you did and selling it. They can have it. They just cant make money off it, especially without telling me.

  • doug

    Turn this argument around.  If I used the instagram logo in some way to make money without permission, what would instragram do?  Sue me?

  • Ellen Dibble

    To me, people have to learn that there are distortions of all sorts online.  Not just statistics can be used to suit the need.  If you want to know the truth for sure, you’d better talk to the person eye to eye, size it up for yourself.  What is this about you being a sexual predator in Hawaii in 1985?  Oh, that was somebody with the same name, who “borrowed” my photo?  Really?  

  • Ellen Dibble

    I notice some people “liking” Walmart, and I am suspicious that they don’t like it at all, but happened to shop there, and the database found out from their credit card that they were such and such a person.  They didn’t like it, they used it.  It could happen, right?

  • johnsloth

    If you make a living from creating and selling images (as I do) you care about these issues. If I create it and can prove it then no matter where I place it, IT is mine. If you like it and want it, you PAY me for it. If you use MY image without permission or payment you are stealing. Pretty simple.

    • Ellen Dibble

      Plenty of artists in various genres seem to piggyback on the openness of the various social media in order to find their niche, to get the kind of exposure and definition they need in order to achieve the stature where somebody — some agent or organization — can afford to own their image (or music, or whatever), somebody who finds it profitable to take that out of the public realm and sell it.  If an artist can afford to keep his art out of the public realm until it is paid for and its protection is paid for, I’m thinking in future, the stature to command such privacy may be achieved by plenty of sharing around along the way.  Or it may be achieved the old-fashioned way by word of mouth, or by a series of awards, etc.  But nowadays, there are other routes.

  • http://twitter.com/kikinola kiki

    Besides privacy, another compelling issue is copyright. I follow many serious photographers, and think they should be paid if their images are used in ads.

  • Scott B

    Welcome to life in the fishbowl.

  • bergea

    This is not about Privacy – its about the marketplace.  Instragram is not the only photo app that can be linked to Facebook.  If users object to this policy, they should try one of the alternatives such as the PicsArt suite in the Google Play Android market.  This will send a message to Instram that they are not a monopoly and users have a choice.

  • DrewInGeorgia

    This discussion reminds me of the talks I had with people when
    Geocaching was turned into a game. It freaked me out when I first learned that if you take a photo from a camera or mobile device with GPS enabled the location would be recorded in the file information. I tried to explain why this was not a good thing and was met with many Deer In The Headlight stares. And how does this same mentality relate to accepted impediments on what should be fundamental liberties? We trade everything off for a false sense of security or short-term entertainment then bemoan the fact that we don’t have the ‘freedom’ we deserve. I think we do get freedom we deserve. It seems these days there is a lot less free and a lot more dumb.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UVPEB3IWU5VYCIC4JI4MHQEG4Y Joe Mahma

    Was Instagram ever, ever, ever meant for use by professional photographers? Seems to me, it’s the professionals who are being the most vocal about their work being co-opted or stolen.

  • Ellen Dibble

    People used to groan upon being shown a photo album.  It is so much better to have those things online.  You can pick your time, skip over what doesn’t interest you.  

  • sickofthechit

    No such thing as a free lunch!

  • klbrooks

    Instagram made a mistake in thinking that since they are a division of  Facebook, that they are Facebook. Facebook is the only one of its kind. There are more options for people to use instead of Instagram.

    On another note, I’ve heard Snap Chat referred to as the “sexting” app since evedence is deleted from the server.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000654896452 Jennifer Barber-Bishop

    We are used to things online being “free” we need to change our POV that if we want privacy we’ll need to pay for the service.  If it’s “free” then you are paying for it by giving up your right to privacy.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/G2VEQA3MRDSRCZQQWQ5A4UNRCU Ben

    With respect to a Times Square sized billboard. Not really. As your guest said, he limits his profile to his friends. So his “billboard” is only as large as his friend group. Should these companies only be allowed to profit from the billboard that I utilize (which they provide for free…) So if I share with EVERYONE, then they have the ability to profit by selling to ANYONE. If I share with only one person, shouldn’t they only be able to profit by selling to that one person? They should only be able to profit proportionally to the amount of their services that I use, not the potential amount of the services I use. <– Just a possible theory.

  • http://twitter.com/Dragonsong73 Eric R. Duncan

    The issues about giving up your rights to seek legal recourse against Instagram are far more interesting.   http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2012/12/19/instagram_privacy_everyone_s_ignoring_the_real_problems_with_its_terms_of.html

  • Kiep99

    It’s time for the FTC to check into online data ownership along with their data bankers/brokers probe.

    It’s also time to consider EU style personal ownership of personal data.

  • http://twitter.com/j9mosely j9mosely

    Listening to this morning’s show I had a strong sense of deja-vu.  Then I remembered this little limerick I penned in 1999 when Yahoo bought out GeoCities — a site that provided free website hosting to users they called “homesteaders”.  (BTW, Geocities rhymes with “atrocities”.)

    “Homesteaders” are fleeing Geocities  
    At ever-increasing velocities  
    Since new owner, Yahoo,  
    Wants their copyrights, too,  
    While still running ad banner atrocities. 

    It’s been nearly 14 years.  Why are we still surprised by the providers of these “free” hosting services?

  • Don Mills Jr

    This is an implicit form of product endorsement.  Why pay a celebrity to endorse a product when you can mine their photos

  • Don Mills Jr

    This is implicit product endorsement.  Why pay a celebrity to endorse a product when you can mine their photos

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/AZDSNALIDTYKQKRQBQKNUH4DQQ Greg

    Great show today. I’m not on Instagram, but I am on Facebook, and I am a photographer. It’s bad enough that anyone with an iPhone can compete with photo quality that a decade or two ago required significant investment and darkroom skills. The ever changing world of how to get your photos out there presents a wide array of punches to try and roll with. 

    So, when it comes to photos, I don’t put anything on Facebook that I don’t expect to be stolen. Even on a hosted web site (which any serious photographer should be paying for), any image on the web can be stolen. I never upload anything at full resolution. 

    As far as privacy, I’m much more disturbed by Facebook’s cookie policy than their photo policy. Facebook puts cookies on your computer that track every website you got to – after you are logged on to Facebook. That to me is so much more intrusive than claiming license to things you intentionally post to THEIR servers. 

  • Wm_James_from_Missouri

    If someone were to commit suicide because some unflattering picture were used in an unauthorized advertisement, will companies like Instagram be held accountable ?

  • Claudia Vasquez

    As per usual, XKCD has a response: http://xkcd.com/1150/

  • Ankeet Patel

    I’ve listened to the podcast and read/listened to every opposing view and I’m going to wear my political hat and ask what are the unintended consequences not just today, but in the future.

    Most the people on all the talk shows are all young so maybe they don’t remember Seinfeld. But, why can’t what happened to george enjoying his sundae at a ballpark televised on tv happen to any instagramer. 
    Youtube ref: Seinfeld – Hot Fudge Sundae
    Plug for baskin robbins?

    Fast forward 20 years, and what about gov’t Subpoena’s on “content distributors” proving grandma was an  Welsh rebel fighting for independence from the commonwealth.

    The policy is simple rephrase the agreement to something of the affect “we shall request your approval to use your likeliness in the event …” and I’ll put my pictures back on instagram for now I’m using flicker or my blog. The possible abuses the current terms open me up to make the risk far outweigh the value.

    I realize free comes with a price not directly hitting my pocketbook, but I’d like to know what that price is. Not simply whatever Facebook deems it to be in the future.

  • Gregg Smith

    I spelled it “nucular” on purpose.

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