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 is a graduate of Kenyon College with a degree in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. A veteran of the campaigns of Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and President Obama in 2012, he writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @JonGreen8, and on Google+. .

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  • Krusher

    I avoid social media as much as possible. I do have a LinkedIn account that contains zero information on me. I just have it so I can do research for work–checking on correct name spellings, mostly. I have a Facebook account just so I can keep tabs on what my family is doing, but all the information in my profile is false. I have a Twitter account, but I very, very rarely post, and don’t really even read tweets by the precious few people I follow. I’ll probably close that this weekend. I wouldn’t have an Instagram account if you paid me 12 grand a month to do it. Well…maybe I would for 12 grand a month. I just wouldn’t use it.

    There’s no such thing as a free lunch in America. If you use social media, big brother, in some form, will follow you everywhere you go and record everything you do. For profit.

  • OtterQueen

    I’m not much of a techie – how can LinkedIn check your e-mail contact list if they don’t have the password to your e-mail account?

  • Max_1

    Jon Green,

    Love the South Park episode.

    Wonderful insight. In reality, back in 2004 the NSA was in the media’s eye for warrantless spying. By 2006 we knew Americans were illegally spied on by the Bush Administration. And by 2008, Senator Obama immunized the Telecoms that followed the Administrations request all with the help of the Speaker of the House’s assistance by NOT hearing Congressman John Conyers and Congressman Denis Kuchinich and their Articles of Impeachment.

    In reality, Americans agreed that they do NOT deserve to have the Fourth Amendment granted to them…

    … After all, they rewarded that very bunch of cowardly unfaithful Oath breakers back into Office, some even elevated to King, er oh, sorry I mean President.

    P.I.P.
    The 4th

  • Max_1

    Economies rise and fall, unemployment follows…
    … But your Right to be secure from unwarranted searches by your Government is gone, FOREVER!

    Thanks for playing 9/11…
    … USA!!! USA!!! USA!!!

  • http://musephotos.wordpress.com/ GarySFBCN

    It’s time to get over the illusion that privacy exists. Only then can we begin to learn how to function in a world of personal data vampires. Last week, my cellphone bluetooth was acting up so to listen to the music stored on my phone, I instead use a male/male cable, one end in the phone’s headphone jack, the other into the aux port on my car’s sound system. A ‘helpful’ screen poped-up on my 1 year old phone, one that I’ve never seen before. It was an app that wanted to ‘help me’ make the experience good and would I mind agreeing to sharing, etc. I almost threw the phone out the window.

    I’m actually quite at peace with these companies knowing details about me. I actually play games with my those companies – knowing when to use a credit card or a ridiculous FB “check in” just for the purposes of a data mind-fuck. By doing so, I get mis-profiled, and get sent catalogs for airplanes, and a lot of stuff way beyond my income.

    But I am enraged when their quest to get my data is inconvenient or limits me, my choices or is a total rip-off.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Bill.Larson Bill Larson

    I quit using Linkedin when they wanted to start charging me to view other user’s profiles. They wanted to use my information to market to others, but didn’t want to give me anything in return. Account deleted.

    Instagram was deleted this morning.

    I still have a facebook account but if they did something like this I would delete them as well.

    I will allow use of my information provided I get a concrete benefit in return.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001426939279 Carl Kerstann

    I copyright every photo I take, it doesn’t cost much. I don’t use instagram but I can’t imagine that they want the headache of assuming they have the right to sell someone’s protected work.

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