So Facebook bought photosharing mobile network Instagram for tidy $1 billion this week. In all the furor about whether Instagram is selling out or Facebook is frightened of mobile or if this is further proof Facebook’s IPO will break the NASDAQ, we are obliged to ask what this means for data ownership, particularly for Instagram users. The answers are thus:
- Not much
- That’s the wrong question
As to point one, Instagram already had a pretty solid lock on the use of any photos you put in their service, as their TOS makes clear with the beneficent caveat that “Content not shared publicly (“private”) will not be distributed outside the Instagram Services.” Whether Facebook constitues an “outside” now that they own Instagram is up for debate, but since the whole point of Instagram is to share photos on Facebook (and other social networks) — and those networks make similar claims to any content shared on their services — Facebook probably already owned distributive rights to your pics. All this buyout means is that Facebook is running the advertising side of Instagram, rather than Instagram keeping the monetizing in-house.
As to point two, let’s take a look at the mass firings, investor vs. executive sniping and near-wholesale management reorganization gripping Yahoo, which is still the fourth most visited website in the world. Do you send messages with Yahoo Mail, hold photographs in Flickr or play roto baseball over at Yahoo Fantasy Sports? Then the meltdown of one of the most popular web enterprises on the planet is of interest you — particularly from a data ownership perspective. Section 9 of the Yahoo TOS states that “with respect to Content you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of the Yahoo! Services, you grant Yahoo! … worldwide, royalty-free and non-exclusive license(s),” which is to say they can use your data for free forever, and make whatever money off of it they want, too. Section 14 of those same Terms of Service warns that “Yahoo! reserves the right at any time and from time to time to modify or discontinue, temporarily or permanently, the Yahoo! Services (or any part thereof) with or without notice.” In other words, Yahoo can shut down anything you’ve got your data in, at any time, for any reason, and they don’t owe you squat.
To be fair, these are standard clauses for almost any web application TOS, and Yahoo was actually pretty up-front when it came to shutting down Delicious (and then, due to outcry, selling it instead). What should worry the data-conscious among us is that Yahoo is in turmoil and its users’ data is its greatest asset. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Yahoo may start shuttering services more forcefully and less carefully than in the past. Or, worse, Yahoo may be tempted to get into some very onerous data-mining and profile-scraping to keep the lights on and hold position as the number four game in town.
Facebook is making flashy moves to justify a $100 billion pre-IPO valuation, but they’re courting goodwill right now. Yahoo is fighting for its life. Which company would you more gladly trust with your data, and which should you be wary of? I know where my attention will be.
If you’re a user of Yahoo services, I hope you’ve got a good backup plan.