Flickr’s Changes Offer Multiple Warnings For the Future

April Glaser offers a number of good thoughts related to the impending changes to the photo-sharing site Flickr, which is about to start forcing people to pay for a Pro membership if they don’t want their pictures – at least those over 1,000 – permanently deleted. For anyone who’s been using the site for any length of time, that 1,000 photo limit is likely incredibly restrictive.

Particularly, Glaser notes that Flickr and other photo storage services from Amazon, Apple and other companies have long operated by promising users that their pics will always be available on demand, replacing memory with ease of access. That value proposition is the same one made by most other social networks and online publishing platforms. Think of how Facebook displays reminders of what you were doing a year ago or other prompts. They want you to put your activities and memories there so you can find them when you want to relive a moment.

When they go belly up or change the terms of service, well…that’s on you, unfortunately. When a platform goes down or wants to restrict the kinds of material that can be published such as what Tumblr recently announced, you have little choice in the matter. You’ve invested the time and energy in building up an archive and network of connections, so leaving is a difficult if not impossible choice.

Flickr’s decision to monetize its power users is lousy for those affected but understandable on some level, similar to how media companies are increasingly putting up either paywalls (metered or complete) or adding membership layers where paying customers can access additional material and reports.

Glaser’s conclusion that trusting private, for-profit companies to altruistically store our media and memories isn’t a great model for society is spot-on. Unstated is that those who still aren’t charging for access are probably monetizing those photos in other ways.

It’s entirely likely, for instance, that Amazon and Google are taking the photos people upload and using them to train their facial recognition AI. Both companies have reportedly used platforms like Mechanical Turk and others to have people look at photos and tag them with objects, colors and other details, presumably including photos users have added themselves. You, then, are providing the foundational data on which these companies are building algorithms that can be used in various sketchy ways.

Indeed teaching AI seems to now be the point of social media and other online platforms. Even if it’s not, the fear is out there, which is why so many people (including myself) see things like the #10YearChallenge as a means to get us to show these systems how we age so it can get better at predicting such things.

The tradeoffs we’re making in exchange for using private platforms are becoming increasingly intrusive and dangerous. They’ve gone from “you’ll see more targeted ads” to “you’re granting us the ability to learn everything about you and use that information in ways we’ll never tell you about.” That goes beyond fears that one day we’ll be charged for the privilege of accessing material we thought was ours.

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