Who owns your online pics and tips on where to store them



YOU don’t need to be a tech whiz to understand the importance of backing up your photos. In fact, being a tech whiz can put your digital content in more danger than you would think. Ask Mat Honan. A senior writer with online tech journal Wired, last year hackers got access to his computer and deleted his entire photographic record, including the first 18 months of his daughter’s life.

Honan’s account was targeted for very particular reasons. He was an early Twitter user and managed to secure a three-character handle. It was this that his hackers sought; deleting his computer was mere collateral damage, designed to deflect attention from their true goal. While the blame for the incident falls both on the hackers, and on lax security protocols at Apple and Amazon, Honan readily accepted that his failure to back-up his pictures leaves him shouldering some of the culpability too.

“I should have been regularly backing up my MacBook,” he wrote in the aftermath of the hack. “Because I wasn’t doing that, if all the photos from the first year and a half of my daughter’s life are ultimately lost, I will have only myself to blame.”

Back in the day, there were shoeboxes of photos stashed away in attics, or crammed into old suitcases and left on top of wardrobes. And because film cost money, there was a limit to how many we could stash. These days of course, most of us carry cameras everywhere we go and digital snaps are free, so a huge volume of photographic material is piling up silently on devices everywhere. On Jan 1, no less than 1.1bn photos were uploaded to Facebook.

The curious truth is that despite the seeming frailty of an old photo, the virtual ones we’re constantly gathering are far more ethereal.

Digital rights lawyer Simon McGarr says that we already know all this. “If you ask people what they’re worried about in relation to photos, and you’ve presented them with a bunch of potential things that go wrong, the main thing that they do not like is to hear that their photographs have vanished.”

Make a back-up. It’s up there with ‘get a pension’ and ‘shop around’ as one of the most ignored pieces of advice you’ll hear. So here it is again.

“Recommended best practise is you should have three backups,” says McGarr. “One in your house on another drive, one in the cloud and then because the cloud isn’t entirely reliable, one offsite on another drive.”

He readily accepts that few of us are going to do any of this, so he suggests that, as a minimum, you retain a copy of the photograph at home as well as with an online service. When it comes to choosing which online service, it’s pretty clear which one most of us default to.

“Facebook is a particularly bad place to store your photos in my opinion,” says McGarr, “because they’re happy to give you the space for free but they want to use the photos for various things”.

His primary beef with the social networker is the fact that Facebook in the US uses its facial recognition software to automatically tag every photo that gets uploaded. Tagging, as the name suggests, is the process of identifying individuals in a picture. So far, European legislation has prevented Facebook from rolling out that functionality over here but, as McGarr points out, who knows what will happen in the future.

As it stands, tagging can only be done by individual members here, and it is possible to remove the tag if you’re so motivated.

“There’s an enormous biometric database being built up in terms of people’s behaviour and locations, because don’t forget that photographs track locations as well as facial recognition.”

The other point to make about Facebook, and one which is true of most photo sharing sites, is that when you tick acceptance of the terms of conditions, you’re probably accepting a lot more than you think you are.

By uploading to Facebook or to its subsidiary Instagram, while you retain ownership of the photo, you’re giving the company permission to do almost anything they want with it.

Few people really know this of course because probably the most common lie we all tell is that we have read and accepted the terms and conditions. Three years ago, on April Fool’s day, online computer game seller Gamestation changed its terms and conditions to state that the company was reserving the right to claim customers’ souls. Not one of the 7,500 people who used the site that day noticed.

Research from investment specialist Skandia two years ago found that just 7% of UK customers read online terms and conditions.

It’s possible that this finding gave Instagram the nudge to doctor its terms and conditions last year, in the hope that no one would notice. On Dec 17, the following clause suddenly appeared in the photo-sharing site’s terms of service.

“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.”

A further clause went on to say that if you’re under 18, “you represent that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to this provision…on your behalf”.

The internet exploded in indignation. Take my soul if you must but don’t use pictures of me in an ad. The company backtracked quickly and said that these terms had been misinterpreted and would be rewritten, but not before thousands of people, including lawyer Simon McGarr, had packed up their pics and left.

McGarr’s rule of thumb in these circumstances is simple. “A business model where you’re not paying anything at all, ever, generally relies on advertising. A business model where you pay someone to hold the photos generally will indicate that you’re the person who’s the client rather than the product being sold.”

In other words, if you’re getting it for free, you’re probably paying for it in some other way.

And if you do come home and find all your photos wiped? The good news is that Mat Honan did eventually manage to restore his devices and recover his precious photos, thanks to data recovery service DriveSavers. The bad news is that it cost $1,690.


In March 2011, Brendan Kehoe was diagnosed with leukaemia. He and his wife Elana were told that he had six months to live. In the end, he only got four. He died in 2011, aged only 40.

Kehoe had been an internet pioneer.

He had an email address since the 1980s, and had published his first book, Zen and the Art of the Internet in 1992.

These days, between Facebook, email, bank accounts and so on, most of us live much of our lives online. Because Kehoe had been so deeply immersed in the internet for so long, his digital footprint was particularly large.

“In April,” says Elana, “he logged into my home laptop from the hospital and tucked his password file on it. I think it was originally so that if I had problems with bills or whatever, I could just log in as him from home and deal with the issue. We hadn’t really thought of it on a ‘What if something happens to you?’ level.”

Brendan made sure that Elana knew every password for every account, that she had the answer to every security question. “Him giving me the updated password file was the most important thing,” she says. “I don’t know if he thought of it that way, but wow did it make things easier.

“There are no words for the relief of having that information. I read stories online about people who have died, the families want access to their email, Facebook or Twitter but legally a lot of these companies can’t give it to them if they don’t have the password. Yahoo flatly refused to give the family of a dead US soldier his login info. It’s heartbreaking, but I see the company’s point.”

Now, Kehoe is urging everyone to make a digital will. Back up everything, and make sure that someone somewhere has access to your password file.

“And, for heaven’s sake, have the conversation now. Now. Have a will, even just scrawled on a piece of paper until you can get to a solicitor. Have this stuff planned. It’s horrific to go through your partner’s death, but on top of it having to do simple things like try to get their email password? Insult to injury. Just do it. There’s great online password sites that hold all your passwords that can be accessed with just one password. It’s worth it.”



As is the case with most online services, the honeyed words they use to lure you in couldn’t be at greater odds with the impenetrable legalese of the terms and conditions. Instagram, we are told, is ‘a fast, beautiful and fun way to share your photos with friends and family…Oh yeah, did we mention it’s free?’

Free, perhaps, but essentially, the Ts & Cs give the company the right to do whatever it likes with your photos once you put them up there. If you have the patience to wade through the 5,000 odd words of Instagram’s terms and conditions, you’ll come across this:

“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.”


Vastly more photos are uploaded to Facebook than to any other site. Who gets to see those photos and how they get used will depend on how carefully you calibrate your privacy and application settings, but as you would expect from Instagram’s parent, the terms and conditions are very similar.

“You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings. In addition…you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP [Intellectual Property] content that you post on or in connection with Facebook.”

The only way to rule out Facebook using your photos is for you to delete them or your account. If you’ve shared them those photos are subject to the privacy and application settings of whoever you’ve shared them with.


It’s your content, but we can do what we like with it. “You retain your rights to any content you submit, post or display on or through the services. By submitting…Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free licence…to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such content in any and all media or distribution methods.”

Professional photographer, Daniel Morel, successfully sued three news agencies last year for lifting photos of the Haitian earthquake from his Twitter account and republishing them. A US court held that while Twitter can do whatever they want with your content, third parties can’t.


The long-established photo sharing site is owned by Yahoo and is governed by its terms and conditions. You’d need a team of Manhattan lawyers to decode the legalese. Significantly, the terms do not include a catch-all phrase about what it may do with your content.

If you upload to Flickr Group, you give Yahoo the licence to use your photos ‘solely for the purposes of providing and promoting the specific Yahoo! Group to which such Content was submitted or made available’.

If you upload non-Group photos, Yahoo says that it will not use or modify your photos if you say not to. On the other hand, the site does say that it can change the terms without telling you. It can also delete or suspend your account.


A relatively new site, particularly popular with users of online news site Reddit. You’ll find a lot more informality in the terms and conditions. This from the site: “Don’t be a troll or a jerk. Don’t impersonate someone else. If you do (and we will be the judge), or if you do anything illegal, in addition to any other legal rights we may have, we will ban you along with the site you’re hotlinking from, delete all your images, report you to the authorities if necessary, and prevent you from viewing any images hosted on Imgur.com. We mean it.”

You set the privacy conditions for any photos you upload, and as with Facebook, if you make an image publicly available, you give Imgur the right to do whatever it likes with that image.


Dropbox provides users with online storage space and allows them to share content including photos by syncing files across different computers. You create a shared folder, invite other Dropbox members to view it and its contents appear in their Dropbox folder.

You can get 2GB of data free onsite, while paid plans, offering up to 500GB, start at $9.99 a month. The business model doesn’t rely on advertising.

“You retain full ownership to your stuff. We don’t claim any ownership to any of it. These terms do not grant us any rights to your stuff or intellectual property except for the limited rights that are needed to run the Services…To be clear, aside from the rare exceptions we identify in our Privacy Policy, no matter how the Services change, we won’t share your content with others, including law enforcement, for any purpose unless you direct us to.”


We’re taking more photos than ever, so many that sorting through them, and printing out a selection, is unappealing. There is a range of online printing services to take the slog out of the job: you can upload your photos, select a range of printing options, and get them delivered to your door.

Low prices don’t mean quality is compromised, as most online sites use the same technology that experts would use in-store. Here are some of the best-value deals.


Snapfish is offering a range of deals, including 20 free prints when you sign up to the site, and 100 free prints when you order 50 or more.

One of the attractive elements of the Snapfish service is that they also offer unlimited free storage for your digital photos.

As with all of these sites, there is a wide range of formats, from pocket size all the way up to life-size. As with all of these sites, you can use the photos to create a wide range of gift items: jigsaw puzzles, cuddly toys, snow globes, mugs, mousepads, aprons … the list goes on.

You register using your email address, upload your photos, select those you wish to print, select formats, numbers of copies, and so on. Prices start from 9c for a 5 x 3.5-inch photo.

Postage costs are also a consideration. Snapfish charges €2.95 to deliver up to 50 prints within Ireland, while 50 to 100 will set you back €3.95. Novelty items all attract different postage rates


Their current offer is a three-for-two deal: you mix-and-match any three items in the online store and get the cheapest for free. You get the usual batch of novelties, from snow globes to fridge magnets, calendars to smartphone cases.

Prices start from 6c for either a 5 x 3.75-inch or 6 x 4.5-inch print, but you have to order a staggering 500 units before that price kicks in. It’s 13c per print for an order of under 200 prints, 10c for between 200 and 349, and 8c for 350 to 499.

Print deliveries start at €3.19 for up to 99 photos, ranging up to €14.09 for 500 photos. You also have the option of international-tracked shipping for €6 for any number of photos, or €11 for international priority shipping.


On Fujipix, the bulk-buy option of 500 photos gets you the lowest price, of 12c for 6 x 4-inch prints.

You can get an introductory offer of 20 free prints when you register, and there’s also a referral deal, where you get another 20 free prints if a friend orders.

The gift options include posters, canvas bags, and the ubiquitous calendars.

You will need to download and install ActiveX, a free programme that allows you to browse your hard drive, select many images at once, and monitor the progress of the images as they’re uploaded. Delivery charges vary between €2 and €11, for up to 500 shots, but you can also avoid those charges by opting to collect the photos at a Fujipix agent near you.


The lowest print price is 9c for a 5.3 x 4-inch shot, in either a matt or a glossy finish — and that’s a per-shot price; you don’t have to order your own weight in photos to get it. 6 x 4.5-inch prints are 12c, while 6.6 x 5-inch shots will set you back 15c per unit. There is a range of conventional and traditional sizes, all for comparable prices.

The usual range of photo gifts is there; keyrings, mousemats, mugs and diaries. Irritatingly, Bonusprint don’t publish a delivery-costs chart on their site.

You have to upload photos and work your way through to an order screen before you find out what they intend to charge you for postage. I asked for 40 prints and the rate was €3.


Our German friends offer some of the best all-round value. They prefer the metric system, and for prints of 9 x 11cm or 9 x 13cm, they’ll charge 8c per print, again without having to order huge numbers of them.

Prices range up to 55c for large-format 20 x 30cm photos, while delivery costs are also very reasonable: €1.99 for prints up to the aforementioned 55c size. The range of photo gifts includes cushions, jigsaws, mugs and teddies.


This is a French site, offering the usual array of gift and novelty items. They also offer some of the best value: 7c for up to 650 standard-format prints of 10 by 15cm and only 1c for 651 — 1,000 shots. You can also get 50 11cm x 15cm prints free onsite, and pay only 9c for between 51 and 500 in that format.

There’s a wide range of size and quantity options on site, far too detailed to go into here.

Delivery costs start from €2.09, for up to five photos, running up to €3.14 for 50 photos, and €5.24 for 100. Again, however, there are variations, depending on the size and quality of the pictures you order.

And if printing photos on paper is just too 20th century for you, you can order boxer shorts and thongs imprinted with a nice photo of your smiling face.


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