New Year: An Opportunity to Delete Social Media Accounts!

A few days ago I received the following email from Instagram:

As we announced in December, we have updated our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. These policies also now take into account the feedback we received from the Instagram Community. We’re emailing you to remind you that, as we announced last month, these updated policies will be in effect as of January 19th, 2013. 

That’s right, as of Saturday 19th January 2013, the new terms and conditions come into operation.

Did you delete your Instragram account before Christmas, once you saw the tweets and the blog posts about how Instagram intended to sell the photos you have taken of your loved ones? Perhaps you made a new year’s resolution to cancel subscriptions to services for which you don’t pay a subscription, so that “you’re the product“. Or maybe you have taken the opportunity to delete accounts which you simply don’t use perhaps Google+ appeared promising when it was launched but it hasn’t found a place in your regular workflow.

Are You Making An Informed Decision?

Is your decision based on a correct understanding of the appropriate policies? Are you aware of the possible risks in deleting social media account?

Back in April 2012 a post which asked Have You Got Your Free Google Drive, Skydrive & Dropbox Accounts? was written in response to a tweet from @sydlawrence which said:

Holy crap. Google owns everything on google drive. Tell me a business that will use it… … 

which linked to the following screenshot of the Google Drive terms and conditions:

Google Drive terms and conditionsThe screenshot quite clearly states that “You retain ownership of any intellectual property that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours“. It’s therefore not surprising that the image was subsequently deleting – but not before the post was retweeted 1,109 times and favourited by 115 Twitter users!

This provides a good example of how an incorrect summary (whether through a mistake or malicious intent) of the terms and conditions of a service can be easily repeated and, through Twitter’s power in viral communications, lead to such misinformation being widely accepted as the truth.

The situation with Instragram is not as clear-cut since the company have admitted their failings:

it became clear that we failed to fulfill what I consider one of our most important responsibilities – to communicate our intentions clearly 

and explained how, in the light of user feedback (emphasis provided in original):

we are reverting … to the original version that has been in effect since we launched the service in October 2010

Instragram now echo Google in providing an unambiguous statement regarding ownership of content uploaded to the service:

Instagram has no intention of selling your photos, and we never did. We don’t own your photos – you do.

So if you deleted your Instagram account because you had been led to believe that you were losing ownership of your content or your content could be sold without your permission then your made this decision based on incorrect assumptions!

Further Thoughts on Deletion of Social Media Accounts

“If you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer; you’re the product”

Back in November 2010 a post on the LifeHacker blog gave the background to the statement If You’re Not Paying for It; You’re the Product:

This particular quote comes from a discussion on MetaFilter, regarding the massive changes at the social aggregation news site Digg earlier this year. MetaFilter user blue_beetle accurately observed that “if you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold”. This sentiment doesn’t just apply to unhappy Digg users but to a significant portion of the online experience and many real life interactions.

I’ve commented previously on the flaws in this argument: I didn’t pay for my education as a child – does this mean that I’m simply a product of the capitalist system which will seek to exploit me as a worker and provide free health care so my productivity is maximised? Similarly I don’t pay to watch ITV; in this case the adverts are the TV companies’ key services which I am encouraged to consume, with the TV programmes filling the gaps between the advertising breaks.

In reality many of the social media service seek to monetise the ‘attention data’ in order to make a profit, as well as cover the costs of providing the services. Like many people, although by no means everyone, I am prepared to accept this environment and have not chosen to purchase a premium account which many social media companies provide for those who wish to avoid seeing advertising materials.

I am not alone in my views on the phrase. The Powazek blog contained a post entitled I’m Not The Product, But I Play One On The Internet which was published in December 2012 which described how:

But the more the line is repeated, the more it gets on my nerves. It has a stoner-like quality to it (“Have you ever looked at your hands? I mean really looked at your hands?”). It reminds me of McLuhan’s “the medium is the message,” a phrase that is seemingly deep but collapses into pointlessness the moment you think about using it in any practical way. 

The post concludes:

we should all stop saying, “if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product,” because it doesn’t really mean anything

There will be legitimate reasons why you may chose not to use a service because you are unhappy with their terms and conditions – but such decisions should be made because of an informed decision and not just because you aren’t paying for the service.

Social Media Accounts Which Aren’t Being Used

But beyond the issue of the terms and conditions, should you delete an account because it is little used? Although this would appear to be a sensible decision there is a need to consider the associated risks.

Back in January 2011 a post on Evidence of Personal Usage Of Social Web Services described the long gestation period for services such as Twitter. As I concluded “in the case of Twitter it was only after two years of first using the service that it became embedded in my working practices” – there was a need to have (a) have a critical mass of Twitter followers with whom I could engage with; (b) have more effective tools than the Twitter Web client I used initially and (c) have a compelling use case which convinced me of the value of the service (this turned out to be use of Twitter at a conference when I was away from the office for a period and meeting new people).

I would admit that I have not yet found a compelling use case for Google+. But I will keep the account, partly because the account is used to authenticate myself with other Google services. But in addition I would not wish to miss out on the occasional use I do make of Google+ or to have to rebuild a Google+ community if I delete the account and subsequently find uses for the service.

Similarly my Facebook account provide an address book for friends and colleagues and a means of keeping in touch beyond annual Christmas cards. But in addition, as I suggested in a post which asked What Could Facebook’s New Search System Offer Researchers? recent Facebook developments, such as the Facebook Graph Search, may provide new opportunities which could be of value to me. Stephen Downes on the OLDaily blog has commented that:

A graph search makes sense, and would eventually provide better results than Google, but it really depends on people being engaged enough with Facebook to generate useful data, and that is far from clear. More from E-Commerce TimesSocial Media TodayBBC NewsMashableBrian KellyClickZTechnology ReviewBen WerdmullerWired News..

I agree that it is unclear whether Facebook will have sufficient momentum to provide a useful service; for me, this is also true of Google+. However I have judged the risks of continuing to use the services as low, with the loss of my networks on such services meaning that it would be difficult and time-consuming to regenerate such networks if the services did turn out to be useful.

I have summarised the decisions I have made and the rationale behind the decisions. Have you chosen to delete any social media accounts? Or have you considered deleting accounts and decided not to? I’d welcome your thoughts.

PS: A tweet from @digisim reminded me that I had intended to also add that one reason for subscribing to social media services which aren’t used is to claim your username. I have claimed briankelly on the service in case that service (touted as an open alternative to Twitter) ever takes off. However as I have only posted four times since July 2008 and only have 12 followers it seems unlikely that the service will take off.

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