All You Had to Do Was Ask

Mister and I had been using instagram regularly (me, maybe too much) until Facebook announced its $1B buy-out. Mister deactivated his account, but I continue(d) to use Facebook and instagram.

Instagram has been one of the best and most fun ways to share pictures with our friends. I can post to instagram, which works faster than camera+ or flickr and a is more satisfying because I know more people on it. I can copy the photos to flickr for longevity and easier searching or to facebook for those friends to see, and I can tweet them. My nieces and one of my nephews recently joined instagram. I'd been doing an alphabet photo project with a friend, checking out photos of friends' kids and food, following strangers who post incredible shots of the bay area, dublin, ireland, and other places.

I have this blog. I have a facebook account. I'm on ravelry, pinterest, quora. Intellectually, I know that our content is not ours because terms of service for most social networks (barring flickr, as far as I can tell) gives those services digital rights. I'm not sure when we all became okay with this, but we did, the collective we of people who post photos, snippets of life, lesson plans, stories, poems, paintings to the internet. We said, sure, you can have access to all my creative personal work so that I can Like my friend's photo of her pug. 

A couple of nights ago, with dramatic flair, Mister showed me instagram's home page and the series of screen shots that included this one: 

Instagr.amThere's our girl. One of his coworkers pointed it out to him. He was shocked, and I was furious. We were caught with our pants down. If you haven't had a photo of yours pop up somewhere unexpectedly, especially one of your child, this is largely theoretical. Of course we know it happens, but it left me sputtering. 

Mister and I are not on the same page about privacy, but the differences are complex. It's not as simple as Mister believes in privacy and I don't. He's more conservative about his privacy than I am. My father would have loved him for many reasons, especially this. My dad wouldn't give out his SSN to his doctor wihtout a fight. He resented being asked for his phone number or driver's license. I don't disagree with Mister's position. He was the CEO of a company that dealt with extremely personal informaiton and did everything he could to build a system that would protect that information. He didn't take shortcuts. It may have cost him the business when faced with competition that didn't have the same standards, but he wasn't going to break trust with his customers or himself.

I tear up credit card offers, but do I shred as a I should? I would tell my students and my nieces and nephews that photos they take on a cell phone and send to a friend are no longer private. A photo on facebook isn't private. They can be copied and redistributed. 

A couple of days after my major freak out and fury, I realize that I didn't expect a company to pick up and use our photos. I've worried about identity theft and security breaches, not my daughter's image being used for marketing a company. 

But, my daughter is 3 1/2. While I appreciate seeing who "likes" pictures of her and Rabbit and think it's kind of cool that a guy at instagram followed mister and liked a few of his photos, including this one, couldn't they have asked before using it? When does the Terms of Service ownership crap preclude doing the right thing and asking if it's okay, really okay, to take a photo that's seen mainly by friends and occasionally by others and largely flies under the radar, and using it on the front page of a company whose billion dollar acquisition was headline news for two weeks (we were in California at the time, and it was the only news people were discussing). 

To be fair, when we talked about it again last night, Mister said, "I could have done the same thing inadvertently, used a photo from someone's profile on the home page [user photos scrolled the top of his company's website for a while to demonstrate the community of users], and not asked." Most companies could do this based on Terms of Service including Google, Facebook, (we think not Flickr) and many others because users post avatars and projects and the list goes on. If you're excited to share, you might just share without considering ramifications. 

When I initially bitched about it on twitter and facebook, a couple of people unhelpfully reminded me of terms of service agreements (typepad has rights to this content, too). Wouldn't it have been amazing if Kodak and Polaroid said we own your photos, too! Who would have stood for that?

One of the trade-offs that comes with the digital socialization of our lives is the dissolution of common courtesies. Salutations in emails. Proper greetings via cell phone. Actual birthday cards. Actual thank you notes. Actual acknowledgement that while your company claims rights to all content that passes its transoms, asking or at least notifying people you're going to use their pictures is a nice thing to do. In truth, I would have been thrilled to have a sneaky little peek at my girl on instagram's home page. 

But no one asked so in a snit, I cancelled my instagram account and deleted all my facebook photos (except for profile shots which I can't figure out how to delete, stupid facebook, and NO please don't leave me directions on how to do this, thanks). I sent instagram angry emails. I considered dumping facebook.

Immediately I felt lonelier way out here in New York. I was out with Bama and Rabbit the next afternoon, playing in our amazing garden, and thought, why bother taking a photo? I won't mail it to anyone. No one looks at my flickr pictures. My connections to faraway felt tenuous. And there's the rub. I'm willing, like we all are, to give away rights so that I can like a photo of my friend's pug and they can give thumbs up a photo of Rabbit eating broccoli. And I need to be okay with that. 

I cracked and went back, creating a new instagram account. 

All You Had to Do Was Ask

6 thoughts on “All You Had to Do Was Ask

  1. sorry to be one of the “unhelpful ones” but the point of my mentioning it was that despite the terms of service, simply contacting the company/the threat of a user revolt can work wonders. Glad it worked.


  2. What a thoughtful post, thank you. I continue to be fascinated about the disconnect between our *expectation* of privacy vs the reality of privacy in the information age. Sites like Facebook fascinate me because they give their users the illusion of privacy with very few meaningful privacy controls over the use of information. As a society we are unsure what it means to have privacy anymore, and I think your post here does a good job explaining one such ambiguity. –Nelson Minar


  3. Thanks, Nelson. I appreciate the comment. There are too many grey areas, sometimes I wonder if we will wash away our concerns under the weight of it all. Cameras on corners, tracking on phones. When will I get my personal RF tag?


  4. When I saw you and the Mister disappear, I assumed it was about facebook. I am glad you came back. As someone I only know a tiny bit, I feel connected to you via instagram, as I do to a woman in NM and one in KS who I barely know but get to cheer on or commiserate with electronically.
    The funny thing (for me) is that without Facebook I never would have gotten back in touch with your Mister.


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