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If Only Pinterest Would Show Me More Ads… Said No One, EVER.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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I want so badly to love Pinterest, but we just don’t seem to be compatible lovers. My initial objection to their service was the cavalier way in which they claimed rights to creative work displayed on their site (almost certainly a relic of being a new startup and writing the broadest terms of service they could until their business model was more clearly defined). But after many prominent people weighed in on their shady terms in March of 2012, Pinterest rightly revised them to be much less threatening to creatives, at least in comparison to every other internet company out there. Happy ending, right? Not so fast.

Just as I was warming up to the idea of Pinterest again, and thinking it could be a powerful marketing tool for creatives if the right demographic is using it (and it can be easily argued that they are not, at least for me), I got a friendly email from them explaining that they are yet again revising their terms of service. So I put on my scuba gear and dove into the legalese of their new terms of service. What did I find? More heartbreak, but not of the hostile-to-creatives kind. More of the general internet-heartbreak kind. See, here:

Two major changes catch my eye (emphasis added):


So, you will be shown ads. Snore.



Ok, let me see if I understand this correctly: Your default preferences will allow Pinterest to monitor your activity on the web even when you’ve signed out of your account – no wait – EVEN IF YOU DON’T HAVE AN ACCOUNT. How does it work?

(larger version here)

Am I reading that right? ‘Cause it creeps me out. You don’t have to have even heard of Pinterest but when you visit a website that allows “pins” they will track you just in case you want to open an account in the next 30 days (unless you follow their opt out advice here, which will be exceedingly difficult if you’ve never heard of them.) Hey, lawyer friends, is this legal? And tech friends, is this possible? I suppose these types of privacy compromises are nothing new. Even the N.S.A. is getting in on the fun. But egads, it gives me the willies.

So, internet-heartbreak. From my perspective, Pinterest is moving towards being just another slick advertising tool for the well-positioned and scarily-intrusive marketing initiatives from Anonymous Widget Company X to give you more of “what you want.” This is not to single Pinterest out; Facebook, to name one among many, is navigating the same treacherous waters between giving people what they want (social interaction) and “giving people what they want” (direct marketing based on the vast amounts of data we unknowingly give up about ourselves when we use these social networking tools). In the end, they are all just looking for ways to make money to stay afloat. Gee, I guess we have more in common than I thought.

Pinterest’s new terms take effect August 26, 2013. You can update your preferences to opt out of “personalization” if you have an account, or you can also enable your browser’s Do Not Track function to prevent Pinterest and other data miners from tracking your internet use. Also, since I mentioned Facebook and their privacy issues, here’s a great post on all the privacy settings you can tweak for your account there. Finally, I’d just like to say that I don’t hate the internet. I embrace it like a weird-but-great family member, with all its foibles. Internet, I didn’t choose you, but I love you just the same.

Related Reading:
My original Pinterest post, “Pinterest’s Terms of Service, Word by Terrifying Word
Glendon Mellow’s Symbiartic post, “The Promise and Perils of Pinterest
The Flying Trilobite’s link roundup of the March 2012 Pinterest-fest, “Pinterest Terms of Service link round-up
After Pinterest’s response to the media hullabaloo, Glendon Mellow wrote: “Pinterest updates Terms of Service, drops the ‘sell’

Kalliopi Monoyios About the Author: Kalliopi Monoyios is an independent science illustrator. She has illustrated several popular science books including Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish and The Universe Within, and Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution is True. Find her at Follow on Twitter @symbiartic.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. David Marjanović 6:00 am 08/7/2013

    Oops! We just accidentally leaked the browsing histories and IP addresses of 13 million people to our advertizers! We’re, like, so dreadfully sorry. Like, totally.

    Link to this

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