At the end of last year there was a major online commotion when Instagram announced that it would be adjusting its terms of service and, after doing so, would gain the right to sell users’ photos without paying or notifying them. The upshot of the announcement was that users needed to delete their accounts by a set deadline in order to not have their photos subject to this modified agreement. This resulted in a very loud, very public outcry as regular, everyday people objected to the possibility that private images of themselves, their pets, their friends and loved ones could be sold and used for anything—objectionable ads, book covers, services and so on—without their permission.
Thankfully, Instagram backed down and changed the wording in their modified agreement. But this isn’t the first time privacy or ownership issues such as this have come up. In 2009, questions were raised about the ownership of content posted by users to their Facebook accounts. Additionally, there are constant concerns about the ability to rely on Facebook privacy settings and users of cloud services for digital storage have found that the ownership of uploaded content can be nebulous—even if it shouldn’t be.
The digital age may seem to have deep roots, but it’s still a relatively new frontier. That makes the evolution of content, ownership and privacy slightly painful. At the moment, the best way to protect yourself is to avoid posting or uploading any pictures, content, files or comments that you don’t want used by the company you upload to. If you want something kept private, don’t share it on a public network—even if you’ve chosen stringent privacy settings.
If you must upload something onto a public network, such as a cloud storage site, don’t take for granted that the terms of service are slanted in your favor. Instead, read the TOS and make sure you fully understand it before surrendering your content.