Friday, 21 December 2012

Instagram U-Turn? Fool me once...

Is it really that simple? Instagram have caved to community pressure, backed down, U-Turned, and given up on their nefarious plans to rob people of the riches that are to be found at the bottom of a sepia photograph of a half eaten donut?


Let's take a look at what people were offended about:

Instagram selling their photographs without notice, without attribution and without payment ala a "stock photo library" business
Using their photos in adverts
Not displaying that their photos used in adverts were, indeed, adverts

So, by all accounts Instagram must have stopped all of this from happening, especially the first...right? I mean.. they "backed down"?

Let's see their revised terms as of this latest development...

  1. Instagram does not claim ownership of any Content that you post on or through the Service. Instead, you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service, subject to the Service's Privacy Policy, available here, including but not limited to sections 3 ("Sharing of Your Information"), 4 ("How We Store Your Information"), and 5 ("Your Choices About Your Information"). You can choose who can view your Content and activities, including your photos, as described in the Privacy Policy.
  2. 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.
  3. You acknowledge that we may not always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such.

So... "1" states that Instagram can take your content, transfer it to another party, license it to others, sell it...without needing to tell you (you agree to the terms by using the service, that is your "notification"), and with no guarantee of attribution.

"2" Says that your content will be able to be used with advertising, in a way that Instagram desires

and "3" says that people may never know if the content from their friends and others is being used as part of an advert.

What a monumental climb down from Instagram!

The reality is that practically the same situation is happening as was previously suggested. A multi-company approach to using your content requires new rights to allow that content to be shared without legal fallout for those involved. They were never going to do this in a way that abused your privacy choices as set out in the privacy policy (and now they are being more explicit in showing you where you can find out more about that), they were always going to use your content in ads (they were able to in the previous terms that have been in force already), and they haven't changed their stance on displaying content in a "paid for" manner without identifying that, a carbon copy of similar terms that Facebook has on it's service and has done for ages.

So, if you got all worried about Instagram in the first place...well, sorry if you were misinformed, be more vigilant about what legal terms mean if you were doing the misinforming. If you've fell for this bit of PR as something of a U-Turn for Instagram as well then...well...why haven't you learned from your previous mistake?

Fool me once...

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Flickr: Terms of use

With respect to Content you elect to post for inclusion in publicly accessible areas of Yahoo! Groups or that consists of photos or other graphics you elect to post to any other publicly accessible area of the Services, you grant Yahoo! a world-wide, royalty free and non-exclusive licence to reproduce, modify, adapt and publish such Content on the Services solely for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting the specific Yahoo! Group to which such Content was submitted, or, in the case of photos or graphics, solely for the purpose for which such photo or graphic was submitted to the Services. This licence exists only for as long as you elect to continue to include such Content on the Services and shall be terminated at the time you delete such Content from the Services.

With respect to all other Content you elect to post to other publicly accessible areas of the Services, you grant Yahoo! the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive and fully sub-licensable right and licence to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such Content (in whole or part) worldwide and/or to incorporate it in other works in any form, media, or technology now known or later developed.
Yahoo's terms and conditions, relating to it's owned service Flickr

Looks like people jumping a ship on fire haven't checked for smoke on the new one.

(This is in response to the various claims by people that they should join Flickr based on the changes to Instagram's Terms of Use.)

Instagram: unacceptable terms and conditions?

Instagram has changed it's terms and conditions, now that it has been acquired by Facebook, and it has caused quite a stir! Unfortunately, every time these "OMG, has decided to sell my content without paying me!" claims come by, I view it with a huge pinch of salt.

More often than not the changes to the terms and conditions are made in such a way to ensure that in an increasingly distributed online world, the owners of these companies don't get sued simply for allowing the service to run as it was described. I would like to make it clear, I'm no lawyer, but I wanted to try and look at this from a less reactionary point of view.

With Instagram's new Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy changes, there are a few changes that have specifically been flagged up, all around the issue of the rights of users and the company with regards to photographs/content posted to the site.

Declan McCullagh makes the claim that "Facebook claims the perpetual right to license all public Instagram photos to companies or any other organization, including for advertising purposes, which would effectively transform the Web site into the world's largest stock photo agency."

He goes on to assert: "That means that a hotel in Hawaii, for instance, could write a check to Facebook to license photos taken at its resort and use them on its Web site, in TV ads, in glossy brochures, and so on -- without paying any money to the Instagram user who took the photo"

I, however, am not so convinced. Taking a look at the terms and conditions it appears that the changes are very limited.

For a start the changes to how the website can license your photos is no different from any other social network, those crying about Instagram on Twitter, and about how they'll now delete their Instagram account ought to do the same for their Twitter account...

By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).
- Twitter's Terms of Service

The reality is that this is a coverall to ensure that the services don't have to ask for your permission every time that your image is used somewhere as part of the service that you enjoy. If they had to pay you and ask for your permission every time that some 3rd party developer used their API to make a new web application or phone application to use in a new way then the service would fail within weeks, days even.

Then there is the issue of selling your photos on. As Declan would put it...

'A second section allows Facebook to charge money. It says that "a business or other entity may pay us to display your... photos... in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you." That language does not exist in the current terms of use.'

It's handy that he's omitted some words, obviously lacking in importance. Well, let's see how important...

Some or all of the Service may be supported by advertising revenue. To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.

The key here is, in my opinion, that the whole policy here is about what is displayed on Instagram. The fact they talk about delivering means that it is Instagram that will be publishing such advertising content.

What could this be? Well how about the Facebook equivalent of sticking a sponsored story on your feed and telling you which of your friends have read/liked the content?

The fact is that Instagram collects all of your data, and has to retain ownership of it. But that's not enough. To bring other developers and businesses on board it also needs to know that it doesn't have to ask them to also ask you for permission for your content to be used.

Facebook is the obvious example of this, where it specifically uses avatars of your friends to indicate who has also liked a product or brand in a paid ad for that organisation. This, I feel, is what these rights are for.

There is no indication, whatsoever, that Instagram is asking for rights to allow them to sell your photos for worldwide use, as if it's some kind of photo stock library service. Indeed the terms retain the language that states that you can make it clear what content you're happy for them to use. Take a look at their privacy policy that spells out how they will use your data...

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.

Notice that it is only this section that has any reference your your User Content (photos)? That sub-licensed, worldwide right to use your photography is purely to allow your photos to be shared between partners, and to be used on the kinds of widgets and apps that you no doubt think are part of the usefulness of the instagram service...

Next up is some scaremongering about your ability to bring charges against Instagram for making private photos public.

'The language stresses, twice in the same paragraph, that "we will not be liable for any use or disclosure of content" and "Instagram will not be liable for any use or disclosure of any content you provide."'

Except that also in that section it gives regard to it's own privacy policy, where it makes the assertion that private photos are not a part of such agreements. It no doubt has to have the right to disclose your content to partners, but it has also stated that those partners are under an obligation to honour your choices about who can see your photos.

Edit: Also, there is an criticism that Instagram will be able to keep using your content after you leave the service (if posted after the new terms come in to force). I am unsure about this, again it comes down to the Privacy Policy.

Following termination or deactivation of your account, Instagram, its Affiliates, or its Service Providers may retain information (including your profile information) and User Content for a commercially reasonable time for backup, archival, and/or audit purposes.

Yes, Instagram may keep some of your content. (elsewhere they state that content may be still be displayed in cache's or archives, or if saved by 3rd parties through their API). I imagine people will look at this and say "commercially reasonable, but that's as long as they make money from it!", I see it the other way. It's saying if you deactivate your account they will only keep your content for a period of time that doesn't cost them money to "keep in reserve" in case you reactivate the account.

Instagram's policy seems quite clear... we'll keep your content for YOUR benefit, in case you want to come back, but we're not going to keep hold of it for ever, costing us money to store but not do anything with. There is no denying, of course, that it's not explicitly saying that it won't continue to sub-license such content while it is still storing it.

"It's true, of course, that Facebook may not intend to monetize the photos taken by Instagram users, and that lawyers often draft overly broad language to permit future business opportunities that may never arise. But on the other hand, there's no obvious language that would prohibit Facebook from taking those steps, and the company's silence in the face of questions today hasn't helped."

Now I don't want to be misunderstood, I feel the terms are vague in places (as Declan states), and that as with all social media terms and conditions there are always risks that the terms could be extended beyond their original intention. It's not appropriate to look solely at the terms of service or terms and conditions, but ignore the context of a company's privacy policy. Misrepresenting what is actually written down, given how hard it is to get people to read actual terms and conditions in the first place, is an extremely unethical thing to be doing.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

America, Gun Control, Liberties and Children's lives

The tragic events of today are still unfolding, it is believed a young man has taken legally owned firearms of his own mother's possession, killed her, and then murdered other adults and small children before killing himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut. It is another scenario that takes America to over 60 mass murders using guns since the tragic events at Columbine.

This subject is always going to be tough, the sheer senselessness of taking the lives of such young people, the lack of any way we can empathise with the decisions made by these shooters decisions...but perhaps unlike other situations similar to this, in high schools, colleges, and adult on adult altercations...the loss of what is currently being reported of 18 primary age children is surely going to provoke the age old debate about "gun control" in the US to reach new heights.

America, however, is complicated when it comes to it's relationship between liberty and gun ownership. It has been said today that one of the reasons this particular event is so shocking is that this isn't an area of the US that is even particular chest-beating when it comes to gun ownership, yet so pervasive is the "right to bear arms" that even in these more "sleepy America" towns and suburbs such horrific results can come about from what seems to stem frequently from mental illness or social segregation.

Some politicians, careful of how the gun lobby will react, will wheel out the same old lines. "This is not the time to act on our gun laws" they will say. They will also be right, no law changes that come so immediately out of grief are perfect. They aren't usually even good. People can claim loudly that this event, like the rest of the 60+ mass shootings since Columbine, is the straw that will break the politicians back to finally deliver gun ownership reform.

Now is the time to mourn, and not to demand that changes are made so soon, even if those demands are ultimately based in common sense.

You see, despite it not being the right time to get into the gritty details of gun ownership, that doesn't mean that we can't recongnise that without such accessible gun ownership laws, the likelihood of this tragedy happening on such a scale would have been near impossible. If it's not a crime that has been methodically planned, to the extent of trying to get hold of an illegal firearm, then you should be able to very clearly see the difference in the loss of life if the ability to just pick up a set of your mother's guns isn't an option.

If this was a knife attack it is likely we wouldn't need to even try to count the numbers of lives lost today on our fingers, let alone run out of fingers and toes to count with.

America, however, is complicated.

With it being interpreted by many that the founding constitution of the United States is that people have the right to own whatever weapons they wish, to defend their home (rather than other more, in my opinion, logical explanations about freedom to defend the land in a different time), the country and the world need to face up to the realities that actually changing the constitution through a separate amendment to clarify or repeal the second amendment is unlikely.

If Obama had the guts, now that he cannot be re-elected, to start the debate, it is clear the debate would get bogged down in the minutiae for years, perhaps decades. The pro-gun lobby is strong, and the country will always defend the idea of individual liberty. It's not unusual to see more conservative commentators claiming upon these sorts of incidents that it is not the ownership of guns that is the problem, it's that not enough others had guns on them to defend themselves with(!)

Personally, I think Chris Rock said it best...

"We don't need gun control, we need bullet control"
"If a bullet cost $5,000 there'd be no more innocent bystanders!"
"Man, I'd blow your fucking head off...if I could AFFORD IT"

What America needs is to accept that it's constitution is popular on the issue of gun control, those against the easy and legal ownership of firearms need to understand the political and social implications of changing the law in a land where gun ownership has been allowed to spiral out of control for the last century.

But it doesn't need to accept that the ownership, running and use of guns is so easy. Better regulation and checks of those that choose to own guns is a start, but isn't enough. I always despair when governments think checks and balances are enough to keep people safe. CRB checks here in the UK to keep children safe only find out if someone has PREVIOUSLY been a threat, and similarly in the US checks and balances will do very little to stop those people that function very normally until the moment they snap.

The only thing the government can control is ammo.

If the government was to work to put an extremely regressive tax rate on to ammo, it would do a large amount towards stopping senseless mass shootings. The idea of firing off a semi-automatic rifle into a crowd would be a fantasy (possibly quite literally) if the whole magazine would cost as much as to buy a house outright.

But in doing so they'd have to be sensitive to the needs (desires) of citizens for legitimate activities. Those who have guns should know how to use them, and so it makes sense that if people want to go to shooting ranges to practice, or even vent their frustrations, then buying ammo at these locations would make sense to be done at a "tax free" rate. Ammo could be signed out as it is purchased, and it would be a requirement to "buy back" the ammo that isn't used.

As for hunters, specially licensed outlets could sell rifle ammo for hunting purposes, in specific small quantities to registered firearms owners, and be hooked up to a state database of those registered owners at near real-time. The purchasing of "large" quantities of hunting ammo would red flag registered owners and prompt further investigation; indeed if the system is hooked up properly it can be a legal requirement for the store to refuse to sell ammo to someone who is flagged as having purchased excessive amounts.

If America can dissuade ammo ownership, and can utilise technology to have *real* checks and balances on what people seem to be planning on getting up to, it will go a long way to solving it's gun problem while not infringing on it's own constitutional rights.

It could even easily be worked around that someone who is defending their own home is provided, for free, replacement ammo by the government to encourage people to keep only small amounts of ammo with their registered firearms purely for the purposes of self-defense. Those who require larger quantities of ammo for their profession, as well as other selected groups, could easily be exempt from paying such taxes at the point of sale or through rebate.

At the end of the day I hope that the opportunity is seized in the next few months to move this discussion forward, and move it in to a realm of conversation that recognises that yes, we cannot predict and stop when someone loses their self-control...but we can make it extremely unlikely that such a "snap" in their usual judgement doesn't leave so much blood flowing as a result. The answers are within our reach, within their reach, and it'd be a scandalous insult to the memory of these young children if the best that happens in the next year is more checks and paperwork for gun ownership.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Equal Marriage, a distinction between rights and services

I for one am extremely happy with the suggested law changes to do with marriage in this country. By all accounts it would appear the route is to make same sex marriage completely legal in this country, recognised alongside "normal" marriage equally, and able to be performed in religious ceremonies if those religious bodies wish to allow it.

This isn't an affront to religion since there have been a number of religious groups, Jewish, Quakers, to name only a couple, that have been asking specifically to allow this in law. All we are looking here is giving religious people the freedom to act freely as their religion would wish in a positive manner.

However we unfortunately have to recognise that some religions, the Church of England as a focal point right now, don't want to progress.

Now, here is where we're all getting a little bit muddled up as to what human rights should mean. Firstly, no gay couple should be unable to achieve the same status as a straight couple simply because they are homosexual or similar. To disallow this is an affront to their rights, which is why we can all be so happy about this change in the law.

It is also their right to associate with those who wish to associate with them. If a gay couple wants to say their religious beliefs are Church of England beliefs, that is their choice they're free to make. Others may choose to not recognise this, or label them in some way, but that is the prerogative of the organisation that they are all associating with.

The Church of England performing gay marriages for not a human right. Marriage, currently only heterosexual marriage, is a service offered by the church just as is Baptism, funerals, etc. As any other organisation would have the right, they can offer the services they wish.

"But wait", I hear someone at the back cry... "What about B&B's, they can't choose to not serve Gay people!"

True, but their service is one of accommodation, and it would indeed by illegal to offer a straight-only accommodation service. The church is a little different, by it's own terms of association it is not offering "marriage" which can be accessed by all, and it's own version of marriage is...while almost identical to other religions...actually a unique act that is specific to that religion.

Imagine for a second that you went to Starbucks, possibly because you're a libertarian sticking it to the hippies. You go there because you like the taste, the specific *mix of ingredients* that Starbucks uses to make their coffee. Every day though you go in and want them to do it slightly differently, you want them to add some apricot juice to your coffee (you crazy bastard). They always say "No, we're not adding apricot juice to your coffee, we don't do that".

Now this is an awkward situation. Your right to buy coffee isn't diminished, you can go to Costa, or Nero, or one of many independent chains that would value your custom much more...but you know that the ingredient mix at those places just won't be as soothing for the Monday morning soul.

Unfortunately for you, this is a problem between you and the provider, and one that is a personal issue that needs to be reconciled internally or as part of the wider group. In short, you can either suck it up and stay loyal to Starbucks because you like their recipe too much, or you can club together and get Starbucks to put a damn apricot juice coffee on the menu.

No-one would legally interject on Starbuck's right to offer the service or products in the way that they wish to offer it. If you don't want to move brands despite them not catering for you, who's the one that really has the problem that needs to be solved?

The Church of England (legally protected in order to ensure that they can't be forced to marry same sex couples despite not wishing to, when the law changes to make same sex marriage otherwise legal), for reasons that should be acceptable by anyone campaigning for same sex marriage, should not be forced to change their beliefs to accommodate a minority of their members (as it would appear to be the case currently).

We should respect the bigots' rights to believe what they wish, it's really not in anyone's interest to force the church to do something that they do not want to do, it'll foster resentment or worse. As long as this doesn't filter through, as it has for far too long, to stop the legal status of married gay couples being equal to that of straight couples in law, then what is the big deal?

Unless you're religious of which case...why haven't you considered that you might be going to the wrong coffee shop yet?