Photobucket has angered users after quietly introducing changes which have left many online sellers and promoters with "ransom" notes instead of linked images on their websites.
Without warning, the image hosting service's Terms of Service have now been changed to disable third-party sharing and embedding features unless users are willing to pay for the service.
While some image hosting providers use this model successfully, Photobucket has been accused of "blackmailing" users by not informing them of the changes. In addition, users have taken to both Twitter and Facebook to vent their fury at the charge now being sought by the company, which is an annual fee of $399 for "third-party hosting."
While Photobucket offers monthly subscriptions from $5.99 to $39.99 a month, users have complained that they could only choose the yearly package for linking, which for the average user, is arguably extortionate.
The changes to the Terms of Service are outlined below for paid accounts:
Photobucket offers the following Plus Account Plans:
- Plus 50 Plan: 52 GB of Storage for $59.99 / Year. The Plus 50 Plan does not allow any image linking or 3rd party image hosting.
- Plus 100 Plan: 102 GB of Storage for $99.99 / Year. The Plus 100 Plan allows for unlimited image linking but does not allow 3rd party image hosting.
- Plus 500 Plan: 500 GB of Storage and unlimited bandwidth for $399.99 / Year. The Plus 500 Plan allows for unlimited image linking and unlimited 3rd party image hosting.
For sellers of online goods, the unexpected restrictions have caused chaos. If you have visited Amazon or eBay, for example, and have spotted one of the signs below, the seller will have been drawing their product images from the image host.
On social media, users have expressed their disgust and some have vowed to move to rival companies as a result. Users are also saying that they are unable to download their images to move them elsewhere, as the same notice appears in their collections.
Some customer reactions are below:
A blog post dated 27 June mentioned the changes to the website's Terms of Service, but only provided a link to the document rather than make users aware of this radical change, which has likely impacted thousands of sellers, bloggers, and traders, if not more.
According to Photobucket, the service caters for over 100 million users and hosts over 15 billion images.
The image hosting service thanked users on Twitter for their feedback and said the company is "trying its best to respond quickly."
Update: 7/7 8.44 BST: PhotoBucket has responded to user claims by saying the financial model behind allowing third-party hosting is "no longer sustainable," and that "seventy-five percent of Photobucket's costs originate from non-paying users leveraging 3rd party hosting."