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Don’t Leave Instagram (or Facebook, Google Drive, …) Until You’ve Considered the Implications

Posted by Brian Kelly on 17 January 2013

New Year: An Opportunity to Delete Social Media Accounts!

A few days ago I received the following email from Instagram:

As we announced in December, we have updated our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. These policies also now take into account the feedback we received from the Instagram Community. We’re emailing you to remind you that, as we announced last month, these updated policies will be in effect as of January 19th, 2013. 

That’s right, as of Saturday 19th January 2013, the new terms and conditions come into operation.

Did you delete your Instragram account before Christmas, once you saw the tweets and the blog posts about how Instagram intended to sell the photos you have taken of your loved ones? Perhaps you made a new year’s resolution to cancel subscriptions to services for which you don’t pay a subscription, so that “you’re the product“. Or maybe you have taken the opportunity to delete accounts which you simply don’t use perhaps Google+ appeared promising when it was launched but it hasn’t found a place in your regular workflow.

Are You Making An Informed Decision?

Is your decision based on a correct understanding of the appropriate policies? Are you aware of the possible risks in deleting social media account?

Back in April 2012 a post which asked Have You Got Your Free Google Drive, Skydrive & Dropbox Accounts? was written in response to a tweet from @sydlawrence which said:

Holy crap. Google owns everything on google drive. Tell me a business that will use it… cl.ly/1W2h1A163p0W2A … 

which linked to the following screenshot of the Google Drive terms and conditions:

Google Drive terms and conditionsThe screenshot quite clearly states that “You retain ownership of any intellectual property that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours“. It’s therefore not surprising that the image was subsequently deleting – but not before the post was retweeted 1,109 times and favourited by 115 Twitter users!

This provides a good example of how an incorrect summary (whether through a mistake or malicious intent) of the terms and conditions of a service can be easily repeated and, through Twitter’s power in viral communications, lead to such misinformation being widely accepted as the truth.

The situation with Instragram is not as clear-cut since the company have admitted their failings:

it became clear that we failed to fulfill what I consider one of our most important responsibilities – to communicate our intentions clearly 

and explained how, in the light of user feedback (emphasis provided in original):

we are reverting … to the original version that has been in effect since we launched the service in October 2010

Instragram now echo Google in providing an unambiguous statement regarding ownership of content uploaded to the service:

Instagram has no intention of selling your photos, and we never did. We don’t own your photos – you do.

So if you deleted your Instagram account because you had been led to believe that you were losing ownership of your content or your content could be sold without your permission then your made this decision based on incorrect assumptions!

Further Thoughts on Deletion of Social Media Accounts

“If you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer; you’re the product”

Back in November 2010 a post on the LifeHacker blog gave the background to the statement If You’re Not Paying for It; You’re the Product:

This particular quote comes from a discussion on MetaFilter, regarding the massive changes at the social aggregation news site Digg earlier this year. MetaFilter user blue_beetle accurately observed that “if you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold”. This sentiment doesn’t just apply to unhappy Digg users but to a significant portion of the online experience and many real life interactions.

I’ve commented previously on the flaws in this argument: I didn’t pay for my education as a child – does this mean that I’m simply a product of the capitalist system which will seek to exploit me as a worker and provide free health care so my productivity is maximised? Similarly I don’t pay to watch ITV; in this case the adverts are the TV companies’ key services which I am encouraged to consume, with the TV programmes filling the gaps between the advertising breaks.

In reality many of the social media service seek to monetise the ‘attention data’ in order to make a profit, as well as cover the costs of providing the services. Like many people, although by no means everyone, I am prepared to accept this environment and have not chosen to purchase a premium account which many social media companies provide for those who wish to avoid seeing advertising materials.

I am not alone in my views on the phrase. The Powazek blog contained a post entitled I’m Not The Product, But I Play One On The Internet which was published in December 2012 which described how:

But the more the line is repeated, the more it gets on my nerves. It has a stoner-like quality to it (“Have you ever looked at your hands? I mean really looked at your hands?”). It reminds me of McLuhan’s “the medium is the message,” a phrase that is seemingly deep but collapses into pointlessness the moment you think about using it in any practical way. 

The post concludes:

we should all stop saying, “if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product,” because it doesn’t really mean anything

There will be legitimate reasons why you may chose not to use a service because you are unhappy with their terms and conditions – but such decisions should be made because of an informed decision and not just because you aren’t paying for the service.

Social Media Accounts Which Aren’t Being Used

But beyond the issue of the terms and conditions, should you delete an account because it is little used? Although this would appear to be a sensible decision there is a need to consider the associated risks.

Back in January 2011 a post on Evidence of Personal Usage Of Social Web Services described the long gestation period for services such as Twitter. As I concluded “in the case of Twitter it was only after two years of first using the service that it became embedded in my working practices” – there was a need to have (a) have a critical mass of Twitter followers with whom I could engage with; (b) have more effective tools than the Twitter Web client I used initially and (c) have a compelling use case which convinced me of the value of the service (this turned out to be use of Twitter at a conference when I was away from the office for a period and meeting new people).

I would admit that I have not yet found a compelling use case for Google+. But I will keep the account, partly because the account is used to authenticate myself with other Google services. But in addition I would not wish to miss out on the occasional use I do make of Google+ or to have to rebuild a Google+ community if I delete the account and subsequently find uses for the service.

Similarly my Facebook account provide an address book for friends and colleagues and a means of keeping in touch beyond annual Christmas cards. But in addition, as I suggested in a post which asked What Could Facebook’s New Search System Offer Researchers? recent Facebook developments, such as the Facebook Graph Search, may provide new opportunities which could be of value to me. Stephen Downes on the OLDaily blog has commented that:

A graph search makes sense, and would eventually provide better results than Google, but it really depends on people being engaged enough with Facebook to generate useful data, and that is far from clear. More from E-Commerce TimesSocial Media TodayBBC NewsMashableBrian KellyClickZTechnology ReviewBen WerdmullerWired News..

I agree that it is unclear whether Facebook will have sufficient momentum to provide a useful service; for me, this is also true of Google+. However I have judged the risks of continuing to use the services as low, with the loss of my networks on such services meaning that it would be difficult and time-consuming to regenerate such networks if the services did turn out to be useful.

I have summarised the decisions I have made and the rationale behind the decisions. Have you chosen to delete any social media accounts? Or have you considered deleting accounts and decided not to? I’d welcome your thoughts.

PS: A tweet from @digisim reminded me that I had intended to also add that one reason for subscribing to social media services which aren’t used is to claim your username. I have claimed briankelly on the identi.ca service in case that service (touted as an open alternative to Twitter) ever takes off. However as I have only posted four times since July 2008 and only have 12 followers it seems unlikely that the service will take off.


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19 Responses to “Don’t Leave Instagram (or Facebook, Google Drive, …) Until You’ve Considered the Implications”

  1. dkernohan said

    “I didn’t pay for my education as a child – does this mean that I’m simply a product of the capitalist system which will seek to exploit me as a worker and provide free health care so my productivity is maximised?”

    Yes.

  2. Hi Brian

    I had thought briefly about leaving Instagram, but then realised that it was only my own vanity that thought anyone/company might use a picture of mine and make a fortune, and the ease of sharing with pictures from was still pretty attractive. However it may have spurred my decision to finally sign up to blipfoto and do the picture a day challenge. As for google+, facebook etc I’m willing to stick with them just now – the advantages outweigh disadvantages just now and tbh I don’t think any great loss to me or society if I couldn’t access them.

    Sheila

    • I was late joined Instagram and found that the ID briankelly had been taken. I’ve added a note at the bottom of the post which points out that it can be useful to sign up to a service early in order to claim one’s id.

      I agree with you that, for me, not using Instagram in order to stop them from making money from one’s photo isn’t an issue. Ironically as there is a CC-BY licence for this blog, anyone is entitled to monetise the content of this blog!

  3. Hi Brian

    I saw the furore, and decided the terms as they then were were unacceptable.
    I deleted (all 6 of ) my images, stuck ‘em back in Flickr.

    I would have thought much harder if it was FB.
    I tend to pick up profiles on most services, but really use few. Mostly Twitter/FB, with some politics on Tumblr…

    I can’t see me moving off FB – too many family/friends who wouldn’t go to diaspora, for example.

    Steve

    • Thanks for the comment, Steve. Your blog post on this subject was interesting, too.

      One question I would ask about your migration to Flickr is what would you do if the terms and conditions of Flickr changed or the service changed ownership. We saw how Yahoo were forced to sell delicious last year and since Yahoo’s financial position does not appear too healthy, the sustainability of their service may be questionable.

      Note I’m basing my comments on a recent Techcrunch article in which the author commented:

      For some of us, we’ve moved on to other photo hosting and sharing services, and companies like Facebook and Google have taken a major bite out of Flickr’s powerful photographic stronghold. I’ve personally let my Flickr Pro account lapse, because there just wasn’t enough value in continuing to go back to it.

      together with the Quantcast display of US traffic to the site.

      • Thanks. It’s a tad unfair for me to suggest I migrated to Flickr, I was there already :-). I do have concerns about the future, and I’m looking to try and keep my asseets and thoughts in a variety of places.

        As I alluded, following Tantek Çelik’s idea, I’m trying to produce content where I control/keep it – and when I don’t, use tools like http://thinkupapp.com/ to capture it.

        I already use delicious in its latest guise to snatch links from Facebook and Twitter e.g. https://delicious.com/shaidorsai/from%20twitter for reference purposes.

        I tend to agree that the “oooh you’re the product” screamers can get a bit tiresome. I guess I’ll stop using the products when their utility is outweighed by their irritation.

        In passing, did you see http://www.chrisbrogan.com/social-backplane/ ? G+ being sneaked into use across their other property?

  4. Charles Oppenheim said

    Instagram’s revised terms and conditions gives it permission to commercially exploit images submitted. Its back tracking statement is incompatible with those terms and conditions. In circumstances where a contract contradicts a public statement, Courts have to decide which takes priority, but my inclination is to assume the contract decides, not the public statement. So until the terms and conditions are satisfactorily revised, people are right not to want to use Instagram.

    • Thanks for the comment.

      Which of the revised terms and conditions concerns you? Is it:

      Some of the Service is supported by advertising revenue and may display advertisements and promotions, and you hereby agree that Instagram may place such advertising and promotions on the Service or on, about, or in conjunction with your Content. The manner, mode and extent of such advertising and promotions are subject to change without specific notice to you.

      I personally don’t mind ads being served when people view content I publish on a free service. note that this is the cases with posts on the WordPress.com blogs so if you object to this clause I assume you’d argue that people should use the free version of WordPress.com? (If you subscribe to WordPress.com adverts aren’t displayed).

      Ta

      Brian

      • Charles Oppenheim said

        I don’t use Instagram, so it’s not an issue for me. The revised terms and conditions permit, for example, holiday snaps taken by someone and posted on the service to be used in adverts for a travel company/hotel, whether or not the photographer and/or people being photographed might object or not. Now not all photos posted on Instagram are flattering – indeed some may be seriously embarrassing. Also, the photos could be used to advertise products or services that you disapprove of for any reason. Although Instagram in its statement said this sort of use was never its intention, the fact remains that the terms and conditions allow it to do this should it so wish in the future. That’s why I fully understand why so many people no longer use the service.

    • Thanks for the clarification.When you say “The revised terms and conditions permit, for example, holiday snaps taken by someone and posted on the service to be used in adverts for a travel company/hotel, whether or not the photographer and/or people being photographed might object or not” the same is surely true of photos uploaded to services such as Flickr or posted on blogs for which a Creative Commons licence has been granted – with the exception that use of a Creative Commons licence allows anyone to reuse the content, whereas content posted on Instagram could only be used by Instagram. From my perspective assignment of Creative Commons licences and acceptance of terms and conditions provided by services such as Instagram should be done from an informed perspective. So I welcome the discussion of T&C, but don’t agree with blanket statements such as “If you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer; you’re the product“.

      • Charles Oppenheim said

        Yes, you are right that the same applies on many other services – and more fool those who sign up to such services without thinking through the consequences. The thing is that Instagram changed its T & Cs to make it possible for it to use photos in this way, whereas previously its T&Cs did not allow such use.

  5. ambrouk said

    Thanks for this Brian, timely as always. After tweeting was leaving g+ I actually had to rejoin BECAUSE the browser on my android tablet (not even a chrome browser) keeps checking me in with g+, very annoying. I haven’t investigated it fully, but I haven’t given up any other google functionality. With g+ It’s just all the prompts and updates I don’t want, I don’t want to feel like there is yet another network to follow. As you know I left rebelmouse too, perhaps that was shortsighted. They were certainly responsive on twitter!
    I’m a great believer in social networks when they have the right mix of functionality and people and focus they really work for me. But its increasingly the case that my email inbox is like a load of gossips trying to catch my attention “did you hear what he said? look where she’s been! what do you think about them?. I know that I value the responses I get back from my networks, so I don’t dismiss this as just digital clutter. Its not even just information. I actually feel a *social* pressure. It triggers my brain into maintaining these social touches, and that takes effort I don’t always have. So I start to resent the service for making me feel guilty for not responding, I feel like its nagging me.
    In a way, the more people are passive participants in networks without that true social pull, the less the power of the network. I’d rather be an AT266637 in a meaningful network than an amberthomas in a shallow one.

    • Hi Amber

      Thanks for the comment.

      In a talk on Managing Your Digital Profile I suggested that you can’t ignore Google even if you didn’t want to use Google+ as a social net6work (see slide 36). In a comment above Steve Ellwood alerted me to a post on Google Plus is a Social Backplane Service which describes ho hew:

      give[s] you what you need to start figuring out the business applications of this platform as it stands right now. That’d be a great leg up on where this all goes next.

      and concludes wrt the numbers of G+:

      Don’t reply with “no one’s there.” You don’t buy a fridge and find it full of food. Millions and millions of people are there. You’re just not doing the work. If 500 million have an account and reports estimate about 250 million people are fairly darned active, that’s more people than Twitter. You’re just not following them yet.

      The question of information overload on social networks is one I didn’t address in the post. On Twitter, as you, this can be addressed by a combination of tools (lists, filtering, etc.) but more importantly by personal approaches to use of the tool: it’s a stream and you don’t have to read every tweet or respond to everyone that mentions you and you don’t need to use Twitter in bed or on holiday if you don’t want to.

      But the question of email overload is a newer one, following Twitter’s posting of email summaries and LinkedIn sending email notifications of activities in your LinkedIn communities including details of your endorsements. However these alerts can be disabled as described in a LinkedIn FAQ for the question How do I add, stop, or change the frequency of email notifications? :-)

      Which isn’t to say that your concerns about the “digital clutter” you encounter aren’t a real concern. My point is that deleting one’s account means deleting one’s network as well as the content and rebuilding on’es network may be time-consuming than using tools (or approaches) to help with filtering content.

  6. A commenter known as PeteJ in some contexts said

    As someone who has made the informed decision to delete several social media accounts over the last couple of years, I have so many points I’d like to make that I don’t know where to start!

    But for now I’ll just say that your post here prompted me to quickly login to Instagram yesterday and delete that account. Until I got an email from them recently, I didn’t even realise I had an account. AFAIK, I never used it: I’m not much of a photographer, I have mixed feelings about the explosion of mobile photo-sharing, and it didn’t offer any function of value to me, and that recent rights spat certainly did nothing to encourage me. In the event that you catch me at some point in the future muttering ruefully into my beer, “Aww, man, I WISH I had an Instagram account”, you are free to say “I told you so!”, but I have to say it seems very unlikely.

    A few weeks ago I also deleted an old, little-used Flickr account too – I should add that my experience of Flickr as a service was mostly a positive one. (I occasionally wonder whether the relatively low rate of feature change contributed to my positive opinion!) But I haven’t made active use of it for a long time (four years since I uploaded anything, IIRC), and it had become just another thing requiring low-level maintenance. And there is labour required simply in maintaining these accounts, even if it is just at the level of updating settings as features change, or occasionally responding to messages, or blocking spammers.

    I admit I chuckled at your footnote argument that one must surely hasten to sign up for new services in order to “reserve” one’s preferred userid! Oh crumbs… I understand the userid-as-cross-service-personal-brand thing, but surely the proliferation of services made that a Sisyphean task several years ago?

    P.S. I discovered your post when it appeared in my RSS Reader yesterday. Old school :)

  7. […] New Year: An Opportunity to Delete Social Media Accounts! A few days ago I received the following email from Instagram: As we announced in December, we have updated our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.  […]

  8. Hi,

    I won’t be closing mine, I like the community I’ve found there.. unless everyone else leaves and then its no fun, then I might consider stopping.
    I hashtag so people can see them, so if it was used anywhere, I wouldn’t mind, but I think it is important for everyone to understand the terms and conditions for anything they sign up to, and fully agree to them!

    Regards
    Agrodut Mandal
    Academic Assignment

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