Hey guys, Andy here. It’s that time of year again, when I muse on Instagram. This time my naval gazing is coming off the back of a eureka moment I had when listening to a podcast about Facebook (FB), the owners of Instagram. Previously my view of Instagram originated from a photography standpoint and being upset about their lack of copyright protection. I now no longer believe this is case and the lack of protection originates from being a lower priority than data tracking and targeted ads.
Copyright is important to photographers as it offers legal protection for work. Photography can be considered as an asset and of value. Copyright allows photographers to licence our work and financially benefit from it. It offers incentives to continue completing future creative work. A part of establishing and proving ownership, in order to enforce protection, is the metadata of an image; the digital information that accompanies an image file and can include details such as exposure settings, time, date and name and address of the photographer. It has been the case for a number of years some internet servers would consume and then strip an image of this metadata and, in the case of FB, insert their own data into a photograph. This action has a number of implications; firstly it orphans an image and makes it harder for a photographer to prove ownership and thus benefit from copyright protection. Secondly the metadata feeds the data accumulation of these companies in their aim of targeted ads and stripping the images of metadata means no one else can gain it. Lastly by adding their own tracking data they gain increased amounts of information as images go round and round the internet.
Herein is the key; data and profit. It has long been said that data is the new oil. Increased data points per person mean companies can better target ads and charge for this service. There are currently two main opposing opinions when it comes to personal data. On the one hand you have FB who claim targeted ads are a good thing. In the opposing corner is Apple who believe that personal data should be protected and, with their latest OS, have offered an opt-in in regards to data and being tracked on the internet. Initial reports suggest that only 4% of Apple users have agreed to opt- in, which kneecaps FB’s business model as, for the most part, the company relies on third parties data. This explains the recent Facebook ad campaign claiming to be the champion of small business who rely on targeted ads to survive. While there is a certain amount of truth to this, there is also a sizeable disconnect between a global company worth approx $280bn claiming to be champions of small business. FB also own the messaging app WhatsApp and in recent years have done their best to integrate WhatsApp with the parent company and IG. This is in part to better data share between the platforms while also trying to stave off any potential regulatory decision which may seek to break up the three platforms, by claiming their interoperability makes them impossible to separate. Indeed if you are a WhatsApp user and do not agree to FB’s data sharing, features will be restricted and you will have only limited functionality (recent developments have seen German regulators deciding this is illegal).
In this context it is clear that copyright is not important to FB. Even photography is not important. What is important is the data and photography is merely a source of data. As a photographer is it hard to stress how awful I find FB to be, which goes towards why I have struggled to engage with FB and Instagram. With brands pivoting ad spend away from editorial titles to online, the traditional route to market for photographers has dried up as both titles commission less and the number of titles has fallen. What was a circular flow of money from brands- editorial- talent has ceased to be the case as ad dollars stop at FB who neither create nor commission work. Indeed it is now been shown that FB’s shift to video was oversold with inflated metrics and rates offered to ad buyers. FB has either bought or copied features from other competitors so that it is a monopoly that reaches 30% of the world’s population. It’s algorithms incite extremism along side a pay to play policy of promoting those who spend the most. It may be argued that a shift from editorial to online and social is an evolution of the market, and one I failed to successfully navigate. However when these market shifts originate from the whims of one man who consistently refuses to accept responsibility for his actions, refuses to self regulate and misleads national governments, market evolution feels more like forced eviction.
Which begs the question; what now for photographers? With no horse in this race it is straight forward for me to leave FB/ Instagram, however I accept that leaves me with few places to showcase my work. And how about those who were successful and invested time and effort? With recent news emerging that some photographers have seen their whole Instagram photo reel infringed upon and republished by other accounts with little to no action taken by the platform, the thought of staying on the platform is galling. Yet they will lose their audience, and potentially commissions, if they leave. It is clear that Joe Bloggs has only limited awareness of FB and views Instagram purely as a photography platform. Hence the volume of images, and data, handed over to it while then simultaneously opting out of data being shared with FB. Attention spans are limited, news cycles are fast and stalling for time is a well tried tactic by FB. As a photography platform Instagram has entrenched itself into our lives and as a monopoly is the go to location for many to show, to find, and to research. However I suggest Instagram is not a platform for photographers and, given the work FB has done to merge the companies, it is increasingly irresponsible not to judge Instagram by the actions and near total lack of moral compass of FB. Stay or go, what is clear is that there are no reasonable choices as a photographer and it is hard not to count myself, and other photographers, as collateral damage in FB’s quest for market domination and profit.