PhotoLike to post stuff on the Web? Sure you do. It's yours after all, right? Umm, well, actually, it probably isn't once you've posted it.

Read the privacy policies and terms of use of the vast majority of Internet sites and you'll find that material posted there by users becomes the property of the site. This is not a bad thing, as the world would descend the rest of the way into chaos if every tiny bit of every Web site were owned by various individuals.

However, few Web sites have gone as far in asserting ownership of posted content as Facebook's Instagram. The photo-sharing site recently updated its privacy policy to explicitly give it the right to sell user-posted photos to advertisers without any notification or compensation to the user.

The new policy takes effect January 16. If you want to opt out, you'll need to delete your account before then. There is no opt-out provision other than quitting the site entirely.

In other words, post a nice photo of your dog Spot eating Purina kibble and you may soon see Spot on a billboard, but neither you nor Spot will be the richer for it. Spot will still have to buy his own kibble.

Photos of children

PhotoMore ominously, the new rules would allow the company to use images of children as young as 13 without their parents' permission.

Instagram's reasoning goes like this: You must say you are 13 or older to sign up for the service. The assumption is that when parents allow you to sign up, they are aware that you may become fodder for advertising, or worse.

There's also the little matter of photographing strangers. Amateur photographers -- just about everybody these days -- think nothing of snapping photos of people on the street or in other public or private venues and posting them on the Web, something no commercial photogrpher would dare do.

Using a photo of someone for commercial purposes without their permission is a serious matter and all photographers worth their camera strap always get a signed release before using such likenesses. (News photos are a slightly different matter).

Cookies & logs too

Here's the notice posted recently by Instagram:

Photo"We may share your information as well as information from tools like cookies, log files, and device identifiers and location data with organizations that help us provide the service to you... (and) third-party advertising partners."

"To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you," Instagram added in its terms of use.

The change is not going down well in the social media world, where one poster called it "suicide."

But look at it from Facebook's perspective. Facebook paid $1 billion for Instagram in April, even though the site has nearly no revenue.

This is not unusual in Internetland, where the attitude generally is that if a site gets big enough fast enough it will be too big to fail, even though no one has figured out a business model.

Or as Facebook marketing executive Carolyn Everson put it earlier this month: "Eventually we'll figure out a way to monetize Instagram." Whether anyone who would make such a statement should be called a marketing executive is another story.

None of this is really very surprising, though. Facebook has stumbled into one pitfall after another as it tries to fiddle with privacy issues, attempting to install a rational business model that some would say shoud have been thought through before the site was ever started. 

It's a good thing civil engineers don't work this way. They'd start building bridges and railroads without knowing where they were supposed to end up. As long as they were big enough, maybe it wouldn't matter?

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