Who owns your profile?

A recent blog post by Thomas Hawk told the story of a photographer’s Flickr account being irrevocably deleted without a reasonable explanation. Flickr decided that the photographer had violated their terms of use and after five years of photo sharing and community building simply deleted everything related to his account including thousands of photos and comments.
Yes, it’s in their terms of use, which he agreed to and yes, they are entitled to do that.
But this scenario needs to remind us that after all the effort we may put into our profile on any given social network, it is never ours.
It goes like this: sparkly new startup comes up with a great social idea.
You hesitate, wondering if to trust this upstart with your photos/thoughts/answers/ideas/social life/professional life/life of your first born.
Startup says: trust us. Your friends have joined up, trust us!
You do, building a profile, linking to friends, adding your comments, photos, links, thoughts. Sure enough, like a well tended garden, your profile begins to bloom, friends come by to visit and you check in once a day to  make sure it’s still well tended.
Now the startup is no longer a startup, it’s a big company, and it succeeded because of all the sharing you and your friends did. By providing the platform, it enabled you to share great content.  Everyone is having fun. You enjoy sharing content and the company enjoys the profits it makes advertising next to it.  It’s true that they need your content, but they don’t really need each and every member so it can step on a few toes, delete an account that it thinks is misbehaving without holding a trial and hearing both sides.
You think the content is yours. The company thinks the content is theirs.  They’re right from the legal standpoint, you’re right from the emotional one. But guess what? Legal beats emotion every day. They can delete your account at any time and you truly have no recourse. It was all laid out in the terms of use you agreed to. (You read those, right?)
My point is that we’re used to seeing our profiles as, well, ours. My LinkedIn profile is essential for my job search. My Facebook profile is the best way I have of staying in touch with my friends. My Gmail account is a five year history of all my correspondence, some frivolous but some truly important. Not having access to any of those three would cause me extreme pain.
Yet, even after reading Thomas Hawk’s blog post, even as I’m thinking how angry and frustrated I’d feel if one of my accounts was shut down, I’m still here, emailing, updating, poking, commenting and yes, tweeting.
Any suggestions?

2 thoughts on “Who owns your profile?

  1. Yes this things are going on. It is more than loosing some data. It is about living in a cyber space “where Might is right.” You are not getting an opportunity to be heard.

    This happens to me to one day my flickr account said to me “user no longer exists”.

    Yes this people can even deny your very own cyber existence.

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