I guess the question should be a bit more specific:

How do you manage content ownership with photo sharing services?

Sure, we could talk a lot about a number of different services that allow you to share content – links, videos, short form content, even blog content – and so on, but photo sharing services are kind of all of the rage right now.

And I completely understand why, too. But I’ll come back to this in a minute.

With that said, I’m genuinely curious about your opinion as it relates to services like Instagram and other similar applications.

Content Privacy or Content Ownership?

A Quick Note on My Personal Stance

Us tech-types loves to distinguish between phrases, attitudes towards various applications, and even get pedantic about terminology. That’s fine and all, but before I go any further, I should clarify my stance in that I’m a big proponent of data ownership.

This is why I’m such a fan of WordPress and self-hosted blogs as well as other similar systems.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t use other software on my machine that stores information in the cloud, but I’m one of the types that usually opts-in to that after reading a making a decision to do so.

Okay, Back To The Question

There’s a difference between content privacy and content ownership.


It looks different depending on the application or the service but for the sake of argument, let’s say that content privacy is like when you protect your tweets, you protect your Instagram account, your Mesh account, or you use a service like Path where you have to willingly give other people the ability to see your content.

Then there’s the notion of content ownership where once you upload photos, videos, and other information to the service (photos, in our case), you may maintain a level of privacy, but who owns your photos? What happens when you delete your account?

I’m one of those types that reads the terms when it comes to something like this, so I thought I’d share just the highlights I’ve found between two main applications (otherwise, this post would go on forever): Instagram and Mesh.

1. Instagram

Does this service really need any introduction?

Instagram Privacy Policy

Instagram Privacy Policy

So here are the gist of the terms as it relates to content ownership once you’ve provided your information (that is, your pictures, comments, etc.) to the service.

Note that this is just a single segment of the terms not to skew the information, but to keep the reading light:

We may share User Content and your information (including but not limited to, information from cookies, log files, device identifiers, location data, and usage data) with businesses that are legally part of the same group of companies that Instagram is part of, or that become part of that group (“Affiliates”). Affiliates may use this information to help provide, understand, and improve the Service (including by providing analytics) and Affiliates’ own services (including by providing you with better and more relevant experiences). But these Affiliates will honor the choices you make about who can see your photos.

Sure, all of this is subjective in terms of if you want to agree with it or not, but what about the idea of simply having a place to share photos with friends and family? More on this later.

So enter Automattic Mesh.

2. Automattic Mesh

This is a new app by Automattic (yep, the company behind WordPress.com).

Automattic Mesh Terms

Automattic Mesh Terms

The terms for this service are much simpler (which is nice change of pace, right?). Here’s another small segment of the terms:

You retain ownership of all rights that you may hold in the photos you post to Mesh. We (Automattic) don’t own your photos, but you grant us rights required to enable the functionality of the Mesh app.

Simpler and to the point. But there’s a challenge here: As nice as that is and as cool as the application looks, how many of your friends and family and other followers are you going to be able to convert to a new app?

The Responsibility of a Technologist

The easy argument is to say:

  • “Use a different service,” or,
  • “You shouldn’t be using Instagram in the first place,”
  • Or any other thing like this.

But come on, that’s being dismissive. If you’re a technologist, you know these things because it comes with the territory. Most people who use their devices want fun ways to keep up with their friends.

And who can fault them for that?

You know the usual argument: “When you’re not paying, you’re the product.” All of that sounds good and it makes you sound smart and it makes you sound professional and all of that, but can’t we cut through that stuff for a minute?

Let’s say you want to have a place to share your life with friends and family that isn’t owned by someone else.

What do you do then?

And that’s my question. I’m not looking for any legalese or anything – after all, we should be able to read and interpret these terms on our own. Well, within reason, I guess.

Furthermore, I’m not looking for any type of explanation as to why people use Instagram versus other services (because there are many reasons), and I’m not looking for explanations about privacy and ownership.

I’m curious:

What do you do when you want to share your content with friends and family that isn’t up for purchase by someone else? And if you do opt to use a service like Instagram (or other similar service), how you do reconcile that with privacy especially when it includes location information, pictures of your children, and so on?

Seriously, I’m all ears. Like many, I have my opinions but I stay off most of those networks for reasons. That’s content for another post, though.

Your thoughts?