Instagram, the popular photo-sharing and social-networking service acquired this year by Facebook, faces a strong public backlash over a newly proposed terms of service agreement that allows your photos to be sold to outside businesses without either compensation or consent.
This move, while certainly savvy from the profit perspective, caused a huge pushback from the application’s users. Whether they sent complaints, deleted photographs, or removed their entire account, the consensus seems to be that the change was a violation of a larger, somehow more fundamental agreement about the nature Instagram’s service. This sentiment was enough to motivate Wired’s Mat Honan:
“By putting terms in place that offered no way to opt out, short of deleting your account, Instagram delivered an ultimatum,” he writes. “And so I quit Instagram on principle. Because I’m tired of contributing to the commodification of my own existence.”
“The commodification of my own existence.” Amazing sort of phrase. It is an American sentiment: a principled defense of the individual and the ownership of your own being, an assertion of the liberty that comes with life.
But if this is the proper response to “commodification” in the business world, why do we continue to tolerate it in politics?
After all, Instagram only wants our photographs. Perhaps they figured that Americans—being so accommodating to politicians and bureaucrats who insist on having power over land, homes, wages, television, cars, health care, and retirement funds—could stand to give up control over their venerated pictures of bare feet and empty plates.
Whether it’s the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), our lives have never been more subjected to the whims of an unelected, “progressive” bureaucracy.
When it comes to government power grabs, it turns out everything is a commodity.
And who better to make the point than the Godfather of Liberalism, Woodrow Wilson?
“Suppose,” he imagines, “that I were building a great piece of powerful machinery, and suppose that I should so awkwardly and unskillfully assemble the parts of it that every time one part tried to move it would be interfered with by the others, and the whole thing would buckle up and be checked. Liberty for the several parts would consist in the best possible assembling and adjustment of them all, would it not?”
He goes on to make the appropriate conclusion: “Human freedom consists in perfect adjustments of human interests and human activities and human energies.”
So there’s the liberal view: Human beings are nothing more than component parts of a giant “Liberty Locomotive.” We are the commodities, and when our masterful engineers tell us that we must move one way or another, go to one place or the next—who could rightfully object?
But take heart: At least when it comes to Instagram, liberty prevails. The complaints triggered a rapid apology, and the company made clear that “we respect that your photos are your photos. Period.”
Americans eagerly await such respect from our government.