Q. This whole terms-of-service business with Instagram has me a little scared, Kim. I'm a semi-pro photographer and my entire portfolio is posted online. How can online services possibly justify using my photos without permission? Also, how can I stop them from doing this?
- Maria, from Fort Covington, NY, listens to my national radio show on WYBG 1050 AM.
A. Those are excellent questions, Maria. In fact, as online sharing companies grow and need to make money, these types of questions are going to become increasingly important.
I should point out that this doesn't apply just to photos. Anyone who creates and shares music, writing and other art is in the same boat.
Let's back up for a minute, though, for some background. If you regularly visit my Breaking Tech News page, you'll know Instagram's story. It launched new terms of service last month that gave it a license to include users' photos in ads without paying users or getting explicit user approval (under the terms, user approval was given when the content was uploaded).
That created a firestorm of bad publicity so intense that Instagram abandoned the plan. It's estimated that Instagram lost 4 million users, maybe more.
What many people don't realize, however, is that Instagram's change wasn't that radical. Most social media and photo-sharing sites already do the same thing - they just aren't as upfront about it.
One of the most ironic things about this fiasco was users complaining about Instagram on Twitter and Facebook! Both of those sites have terms of services that are just as bad, if not worse, than Instagram's proposed changes.
Twitter's terms say that by posting "content" on Twitter, you give Twitter the rights to use it "in any and all media or distribution methods." Based on the vague term "content," Twitter could have a valid claim to use your posts, photos or even video, however it wants.
As I've told you before, Facebook's terms of service grants it the full rights to your profile picture and name to use in ads. By using Facebook with the default settings, you let Facebook use your content for just about anything it wants.
I hope you're not using one of those sites for your portfolio, Maria. Dedicated photo-sharing sites like Flickr aren't as bad - most of them won't use your photos as ads.
However, you still grant these sites a license to do what they want with your photos. The question is how much you trust them to not use the photos.
Most people click "accept" without reading while signing up for a site. Before sharing content on a site, you should always read the terms of service so you know what the site can do with it.
Also, keep in mind that terms of service can change without notice. It's a good idea to review them every once in a while.
One comfort is that most sites, including the ones I've mentioned, don't take ownership of your content when you post it. That means you can take your content down and close your account if you find something in the terms of service you don't agree with. Your content will still belong to you.
For more about how tricky ownership vs. license is when it comes to digital content, read this tip.
If a site's terms of service make you want to find a replacement, I know some good ones. Here are three private alternatives to sites you use every day.
Q. Kim, I saw a Facebook post over the holidays that asked me to send a card to a wounded soldier. It said to address it to "Any Recovering Soldier" at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. I loved the sentiment, but didn't Walter Reed close? I'd like to know of a legitimate way to send some support to our armed service members if possible. Do you know any?
- Henry, from Boston, MA, listens to my national radio show on WBZ 1030 AM.
A. You're a keen scam detector, Henry. The Walter Reed Army Medical Center closed in 2011 and is now the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. It's not in Washington, D.C., but in nearby Bethesda, MD.
In addition, the postal service won't deliver a package addressed to "Any Soldier." That could put our brave soldiers in serious danger! You need to address the package to a soldier by name.
There's more you need to know before you send a package. That's why I started Operation Komando. It's a special page on my site that not only tells you how to send a package, but has 12 different units currently serving that would love to receive your support, Henry.
This "Any Soldier" hoax is just an example of how easy it is to get scammed on Facebook. This seemingly nice hoax will only waste a little bit of your time. Other scams can steal your identity or give your computer a nasty virus.
The easiest scam to fall for on Facebook is a free giveaway. You'll see everything from gift cards to free tablets, laptops and smartphones.
It's very rare for a company to give away something through Facebook. When it does, it's usually promoted on that company's Facebook page or website. If you check their page or site and don't see something, don't bother.
Almost as exciting as winning the latest gadget is seeing the latest viral video. However, many "videos" posted on Facebook aren't videos at all. They'll ask you to update your video player before you can watch and, when you do, you'll be downloading a virus and sharing the scam with your friends.
This one is easy to avoid. Type the video's title into a Google search. It should pop up with a link to it on YouTube. If YouTube or other results don't pop up, it's probably a scam.
You can also ask your friend if they intentionally posted it. They might not even know it's there!
Another common scam offers to change your Facebook layout. Some, like the dangerous Facebook Black scam, offer to change your site's colors. Others just say that can give you back Facebook's "old" layout.
There is no official way to change your Facebook layout. Social Fixer can change the way you see it, but nothing will change the way other people see it.
Another scam that isn't even possible is finding out who has visited your profile. This old gem has been around almost as long as Facebook itself.
Facebook has made it clear several times: There is no way for any app to show you who has visited your profile. Any download that says differently is either a prank or a virus. You can, however, see who has unfriended you using these sites.
These are the most popular scams, but it's really just the tip of the iceberg. Facecrooks is updated with scams as they break. I update my Facebook page to sniff out scams as I find them, so 'Like' my page on Facebook too.
Facebook isn't the only site where scammers abound, though. Here are three more online scams you have to stay vigilant against.
It was a hard year financially for a lot folks in this country in 2012. With the so-called "fiscal cliff" right around the corner, 2013 also looks ominous. We can't just wait around for Washington to get its act together.
That's why it's so important to take control of your own finances. Technology is your best friend when it comes to money. There are countless ways to save and earn cash in the digital world! I've rounded up my top ten Money Tips from 2012 right here.
10. Turn your phone into your digital wallet - Chances are you've got three things on you no matter where you go or what you do: your keys, your wallet and your phone. If you lost any one of them, your day would be ruined!
So why not mitigate the risk and make buying stuff a lot less of a hassle by combining your phone and your wallet? New smartphone technology has made mobile payments convenient and practical. Find out how it can work for you.
9. Take donations for your projects - Did you know there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of people who want your project to succeed? Whether you have a clever new invention, a brilliant movie idea or a charitable project, you can find funding from like-minded folks online!
It's called "crowdfunding," and it's a whole new way for entrepreneurs and artists to raise the capital they need to make their dreams come true. This tip will help you get your great idea off the ground without a mountain of debt.
8. Apps to help slash your smartphone bill - One of the biggest drains on your checking account is your monthly cellphone bill. If you've got a smartphone, you'll notice that all that data isn't free and it isn't cheap!
But smartphones also have a ton of ways to make themselves less expensive by saving on data costs, minutes and texts. Here are some essential apps to save hundreds on your phone bill.
7. Save money with a shared data plan? - Having one monthly cellphone bill is bad enough, but if you have kids with smartphones, your costs can go through the roof! Wireless carriers have noticed parents going gray early thanks to data overages and now offer sharing plans.
But are they worth it? It can be confusing to try and fit these plans into your unique family and lifestyle. These plans can save you a lot of dough, but you should read this helpful tip to make sure they're right for you. Make sure you check out my handy data-plan calculator, too.
6. Free Wi-Fi from your cable company - One surefire way to save huge on cellular data is to use Wi-Fi whenever and wherever possible. Unfortunately, finding a free wireless hotspot can be tough, and paying for it can be expensive.
Did you know that your cable Internet service provider may offer free wireless hotspots around your city? I'll tell you how you can find out in this helpful tip.
5. Upgrade to the iPhone 5 for less - Now that the brand-new, bigger, better and blazing fast iPhone 5 is out, you might think your old iPhone 4S is obsolete. If you're in the middle of a contract, you probably feel stuck with an inferior model.
Not so fast! It turns out that the iPhone 4S is still a great phone and still in demand. You can find out how to upgrade to the iPhone 5 right now for a lot less money.
4. Save big money on ink and printing costs - It's so mind-bogglingly bizarre to think, but did you know that it can sometimes be cheaper to buy a whole new printer than a new set of ink cartridges? Ink is incredibly expensive and it seems like it's always running out.
Before you go shopping for a cheap new printer every couple months, read this tip about saving money on printing costs. After all, the easiest way to save money on ink is to use less ink! It's surprisingly easy to do.
3. Helpful job hunting resources - If you're unemployed or underemployed, you're probably under a great deal of stress. It isn't easy to get a good job in this economy. Thousands of people have been searching for months and even years without success.
This comprehensive tip can help you land your dream job or even make money from the comfort of your home! Build the ultimate résumé and avoid scams with this helpful job hunting advice.
2. Free alternatives to costly software - If you've just bought a new computer, the next step is to stock it up with useful programs. The trouble is that the best software like Office and Photoshop can be prohibitively expensive.
You can save thousands on professional software by using these free alternatives. Each is high-quality and comparable to a pricey equivalent. You could save up to $7,800 with this tip.
1. An easy way to save on your electric bill - Electricity is a stealthy expense. You're always using it even if you don't realize it. That means you're also always paying for it. Those costs can add up to a pretty formidable bill!
There are some easy tricks for trimming hundreds from your electricity bill. It all starts with putting a stake through the heart of "vampire" power suckers that sneakily steal power even when they're off! Find out how to do it.