Instagram sells your photos, Linkedin checks my email, yet I continue to let them

Instagram just “shocked users” by announcing plans to amend its terms of use so as to allow the site to sell your photos to third parties for use in advertisements and promotions, with no compensation to the user.

Forgive my lack of shock.

In a welcome gesture of humanity, many users of the photo-sharing site are preparing to delete their accounts on or before the day the new terms of use go into effect on January 16th. Which is a pleasant reminder of an obvious but often-overlooked point:

When websites, or other businesses, do things we don’t like, we can’t expect them to change because we’d rather they be nicer.

While I’m sure Instagram’s decision would not poll well with a representative sample of its users, I’m also sure that most of them will continue using the site. Instagram has put forth a product, users have agreed to the company’s terms of using that product. If the terms aren’t worth the product, walk away:

But users like me implicitly endorse these invasions of privacy by a) not reading fine print, and b) not walking away when we find out what’s in the fine print.

A few weeks ago, I was bored and scrolling through the extensive list of people Linkedin suggests I “connect” with, when I stumbled upon two names that were not in my “network,” but were rather two people whom I had only corresponded to via my personal email account. When I emailed Linkedin’s IT desk for an explanation, they said I had likely imported my contacts. But neither of the people in question are saved as contacts on my account and, furthermore, I hadn’t imported my contacts in the first place.

In short, it seems that Linkedin would only have suggested these two names as potential connections if it had direct access to my email account.

This didn’t seem right, so I asked my friend who works part-time for the site. Sure enough, what most likely happened was that when I joined the site I gave Linkedin permission to do exactly what they did. And, sure enough, I’ve kept my account intact.

Am I comfortable using Linkedin now? No. Am I a hypocrite? Absolutely.

But my hypocrisy is strikingly average in the cyberspace of today. Recently, Facebook prematurely closed an election on whether or not to implement controversial changes to its own terms of use, including ending the site’s elections process. While 30 percent of Facebook users needed to participate for the election to be binding, less than one tenth of one percent of users cast ballots. As Wired remarked:

By the time you read this, Facebook will have finished an election in which users voted on the future of user voting. Users will have voted overwhelmingly to keep having elections, resulting in an end to user elections.

Of those who did cast ballots, 88 percent were opposed to the changes. Will the resulting loss of control and privacy Facebook’s fault, or ours? As someone who a) had an opinion on the policy, and b) failed to cast a ballot, it’s clear that the blame lies with users like me.

It isn’t outrageous that Instagram knows it will make more money from the sale of its users’ photos than it will lose from users who delete their accounts. What’s outrageous is that our apathy gives them the opportunity.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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