Instagram, Your Privacy, and A Photo Project

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

camera phone cameraphone (Jody Avirgan/WNYC)

The mobile photo service Instagram caused a furor yesterday when they announced expansive new terms of service. Sam Biddle, reporter for Gizmodo, explains the backlash, and what we know about social network privacy in general. Then, James Estrin, senior staff photographer and co-editor of the Lens blog for the New York Times, discusses the role of camera photography in photojournalism, and helps launch our year-end photo project.


Sam Biddle and James Estrin

Comments [36]

Java from nyc

Dear WNYC:
You have such a nice and modern looking website - why would you ask your web visitors to click through 41 pages of tiny photos?!
Have you heard of APPs?
Have you heard of Jquery?
Or just Javascript!
What is the meaning of this endless journey through these photos?
They are meant to be inside a gallery of sorts.

Dec. 25 2012 04:50 PM

"How dare we use Instagram and then expect that the people behind the site will do all that work for free??"


The people behind Instagram did not do it for free -- they sold it for a billion dollars.

Now it's FB's problem (not ours)

Dec. 19 2012 05:34 PM

(of course poor eli has drunk the kool aid, like the jizmodo guest, his belief that free national exposure shilling for Nike will lead to real work in the future is just ignant. Eli -- if Nike uses your ad for free this time, their next ad won't be the paid Eli version -- it will be the unpaid next shmuck's ad.

Meanwhile you'll be looking under your used couch for diaper $$$).

Dec. 19 2012 05:23 PM

inqisitgal -- "If you think that a national company like Nike would use a low res image in its advertising, you are out of your mind..."

i know your heart is in the right place -- and your argument basically is too -- but really, what a silly thing to say.

instagram billboards, contests, and even professional edited images presented conventionally are all reasonable uses from a business perspective, and that's just for starters.

photographers have a hard battle that won't be won by bullying amateurs or setting up high barriers of entry on the technical side, as in the past.

Dec. 19 2012 05:18 PM
Inquisigal from Brooklyn

Eli Friedmann from astoria Eli,

If you think that a national company like Nike would use a low res image in its advertising, you are out of your mind. The original size and quality of an image is incredibly important in print, video,and even web advertising.
And any photographer - amateur or pro - who is talented and experienced enough to be seeking agency representation would know better than to give away their work for free when usage fees can tick up into the tens of thousands.

People, do not give away ANYTHING to corporations who can afford to pay for copyright usage!

Dec. 19 2012 02:24 PM

everyone's leaving instagram. google "cancel instragram" for some evidence.

if nytimes was smart they'd simply set up an instagram-like site for their paying customers or for the world. i'm guessing it would take them between 1 and 3 hours -- and that's man hours.

Dec. 19 2012 12:53 PM
Kate from Redding, CT

I was somewhat disgusted by your guest's nonchalant attitude toward instagram's terms of service. He acted as though he was a voice for instagram's users but he was most certainly not my voice. I did delete my account and my husband, sister and son did as well. If Instagram wants to make money they could charge for their service. That is an app I would have certainly paid for. But now I am seeking out another photo editing program that I am sure I will find. Your guest may only take meaningless pictures of his feet with Instagram, but I myself take meaningful and personal photos with my phone and Instagram; Photos that I would not agree to give to Instagram at no charge so that they could use for their benefit.
I think your guest from Gizmodo represents what is wrong with the mindset of certain sectors of American society. His feeling seems to be that the American public is mindless and selfish and that corporate America should be unregulated and allowed to follow their own set of rules.

Dec. 19 2012 12:32 PM
oscar from ny

...and to all the geniuses out there, it all started long time ago around the late 90s early 2000s that these boards or social engineering was developed, it was at first for the elite artists that will get together in a board and write html codes to make computer art trade porn, pics, information make friends, these boards were from japan Mexico the US, many places than came myspace, hi5, etc, its not like fb™ invented the concept, its been around and it has always been free for friends..
Ps, hi Amy :)

Dec. 19 2012 11:20 AM
Marilyn from Manhattan

Your guest’s complacency is appalling. Intellectual property should be protected whether created by a corporation or an individual. Their terms of use are hideous, unethical and hopefully will be found to be illegal. Your guest IS right that these terms are nearly ubiquitous – Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook all claim the right to sell your photos, videos, words for profit with no notification or payment to you. No it is not an honor to have your content stolen, or a picture of your child or friends used in an ad without your notice. Adding insult to injury, the image makers (us) are are liable as these pix would be used without model releases: See The Atlantic and NYT online. There are more ethical ways to monetize, like selling ads or charging a user fee.

Dec. 19 2012 10:57 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Sure, they need to make money, but they don't have to change your settings w/out telling you to make their profit. On the other hand, most terms of service include a section that says you retain copyright but are granting them a near-unlimited license to use their content (incl. photos) any way they like. Some TOSs say they may change those terms "with or without notice to you." (Yes, I read them. I haven't read Facebook's, because I've never joined it.) So even if they give you a way to opt out of allowing some kinds of content to be used some kinds of ways, that could change at any time. Often they'll put a note on their web page about it, but in many cases it's up to you to check the site periodically to see if they've changed them.

I found Mr. Biddle's take on this to be dismissive bordering on insulting to users who don't intend their photos to be used in ads. Yes, sites like these need to make money, but they don't need to sign users up under 1 set of terms & then make these changes before they notify the users, as Facebook has repeatedly done, even after promising they wouldn't do it again (as Facebook has also repeatedly done). They could set up 2 tiers, 1 allowing them greater use of users' content in a more full-featured version--some software does this w/ads. They should always give users the choice to opt out of the use of their data in these ways or, better yet, to opt in.

Dec. 19 2012 10:56 AM
John A

Read the first 19 comments here. The crowd gets it, and in a democracy that has to be what ultimately wins. Brian's ambiguous use of the word creepy was right on.

Dec. 19 2012 10:51 AM

Over and over Sam Biddle said that people weren't leaving Instagram... and that just doesn't jive with what I've been seeing. People are voting with their feet and are moving to other free services that do not have policies as bad as Facebook/Instagram's. Services that allow you to download your files saw record usage. People are posting pictures of their "goodbye" messages.

If this wasn't a big deal - Instagram wouldn't be responding. They'd be ignoring it, as Facebook usually does.

Dec. 19 2012 10:46 AM
suzanne from manhattan

Please help me. I don't understand. I thought I just snapped a photo and it went on the removable chip on my phone. How and when is Instagram involved? Please explain. Thanks.

Dec. 19 2012 10:45 AM
Jeff from New York

I would be interested to know how many of the "tech bloggers" who support the egregious degradation of copyright are on the take from those companies.

Dec. 19 2012 10:44 AM
oscar from ny

Ughh same ppl stealing ideas so they can get the credit making the whole world believe that they are the superior franchise monopoly so they can accredit billions...i don't believe in none of these thieves, and i hope everyone across America does the same and steal all ideas , music, movies, etc...who do these ppl think they are?..why should a bunch of 0's and 1's cost?..isn't America the land of freedom?...start acting like it, i know its hard for some traumatized ppls but you got to get over goddd

Dec. 19 2012 10:43 AM

If you want to be floored by Terms of Service or Terms of Use, try reading the small print on your credit card agreement or the agreement on the software you use. Software manufacturers routinely include language that says something like, "By using our software, you waive any right, at all, anywhere, in the Universe to hold us accountable regarding anything that happens as a result."

The software could completely annihilate your computer, but you would already have waived your right to hold the manufacturer accountable.

Years ago, Net Zero (I think) tried to insert language in the agreement that would have _required_ users to leave their computers open to distributed computing. Net Zero would have charged businesses with big computing tasks to distribute computing to users — without the users' being allowed to intervene in anyway.

Dec. 19 2012 10:42 AM
John from Brooklyn

It's so refreshing to hear Sam's rational, calm, reaction to another one of these privacy concerns that people collectively freak out about. Seriously, cool your jets everyone.

Dec. 19 2012 10:42 AM
Aaron from Manhattan

your first guest is being flippant about this Instagram issue. It is a free service that some people like, but that doesn't mean that we should just accept the terms.

And he's wrong, some people did cancel their accounts. I did. Their terms are just bad signaling to creators, Pro or Amateur. They had many other options for revenue generation (paid premium app, revenue sharing, etc), not making money off of content others have created.

Dec. 19 2012 10:41 AM
Jade from NYC

Your guest from Gizmodo is an idiot. Would he mind if Webster's used his pic next to the word "idiot"?

Dec. 19 2012 10:40 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

Wait till a violent situation occurs having to do with Instagram photos.

Dec. 19 2012 10:40 AM
Clif from Mid-town

And this is how Big Brother and the corporate model wins! Consumer apathy. We're slowly giving up our privacy bit by bit. Some things are still sacred like the arts & privacy. People are becoming pawns of the big corporations. But I guess as long as they're giving us "cool" toys to keep us occupied it's ok.

Dec. 19 2012 10:40 AM
Michael from Greenpoint

Sorry, I don't agree with your first guest. If Instagram wants to operate more like a for-profit business then they should offer users the option and give us a cut if we agree. They also need to let us know where they intend to use images. There was an instance of a gay couple's wedding photo being distributed by an anti-gay group...

Dec. 19 2012 10:40 AM
Telegram Sam from Staten Island

What a weird little weasel this guy is. 1) instagram didn't say what they said; 2) they did say what they said, but they're a business and that's life; 3) your pictures suck anyway and everybody's just too paranoid and hypocritical. Some bloggers aren't really ready for prime time.

Dec. 19 2012 10:40 AM
sp from nyc

Please ask about people who do NOT have Instagram accounts but who might appear in other people's pictures.

Dec. 19 2012 10:39 AM
Inquisigal from Brooklyn

This is a disturbing user policy, and as a professional photographer, I find it even more disturbing. The more we as a society allow corporations and ourselves to give photographic work away for free, the less any of us will be able to make a living creating works that actually do take experience, time, and money to create.

I myself do not use Instagram, but it seems people should be willing to pay for the service (much like photographers pay for Photoshop) to avoid these sorts of privacy invasions.

Dec. 19 2012 10:39 AM

I'm perfectly fine with them monetizing, and I recognize that they're a business, but I don't know why monetizing should mean creepily selling people's photos without a specific request. Advertising, paid subscriptions, these are ways to monetize that don't seem quite so questionable.

Dec. 19 2012 10:38 AM
Charles Maraia from Nuc

Your guest doesn't get it. As a professional photographer, that may have had that coffee account, now lost it because his for client just got the photo for free.
It happened with stock vs. assignment.

Dec. 19 2012 10:38 AM
antonio from Bayside

Actually the internet is built on a open source model.
Google git-hub...
Which is mostly free. People just pay to keep developing going. But obviously the reporter is towing the corporatist/capitalist model....

Dec. 19 2012 10:38 AM
pliny from soho

what about the "droit de l'image"
the EU has some pretty strict rules on this.

Dec. 19 2012 10:37 AM
Jeff from New York

Violating intellectual property laws and stealing content from photographers is not "icky" and is NOT a legitimate business practice. Find a different way to make money.

Dec. 19 2012 10:37 AM
Kate from WaHi

LOL - you don't need my photo. This fellow is being totally unfair to users. No one minds their making money - but this is bait and switch and, not to put too fine a point on it, scummy.

Dec. 19 2012 10:37 AM
sp from nyc


As someone who treasures my privacy, I have never had (or wanted) a Facebook account. Anyone worth being in touch with is worth a call, an email, or (heaven forefend) a letter. That any stranger can take my picture (actually, my dog's picture--people in NYC are always asking if they can photograph her) and post it to Instagram where it can become a commercial is appalling. My understanding is that any commercial use of an image requires a signed photo release (I have actually signed these for same said dog). How can Facebook circumvent this law for those of us who are not even subscribers to their "service"? They had better be prepared for some major blowback.

Dec. 19 2012 10:36 AM

No Facebook or Instagram language is going to eliminate the legal requirement for them to get a release for ANY photo with a person's face appearing.

People can actually — for once — be thankful for the obscene prostituting Congress subjects itself to for big business. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act might just catch the corporations here. BY DEFAULT, you own absolutely the copyright on your creative output. So Instagram has to claim that you have surrendered or at least shared your copyright by using Instagram. A court might very well find that unenforceable.

And the guest is just lying if he is saying that literally no one has closed his or her account.

Dec. 19 2012 10:36 AM
Eli Friedmann from astoria

the funny thing is any instagram user who ended up with their low res non professional photo on instagram in a national nike ad would be overjoyed at the exposure....bragging rights forever and leverage for professional photographic representation.

Dec. 19 2012 10:35 AM
John A

Fools rush in where Lawyers fear to tread. Then the lawmakers have to fix things up later. This is a prime case.

Dec. 19 2012 10:34 AM

Can we get the facebook guy to take the "No Evil" oath asap? Save yourself, man!

Dec. 19 2012 10:26 AM

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