Photobucket accused of blackmail after quietly requiring users to pay $400 a year to hotlink

Amazon via BBC
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Thousands of listings from online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay are now filled with unsightly error images by Photobucket after the photo hosting site quietly introduced a $399 annual fee to users who want to embed images on third party websites. Users are now accusing Photobucket of extortion, as the service failed to make the update to its terms of service abundantly clear.

It all began last week when Photobucket announced in a short blog post that it had updated its terms of service that had begun taking effect from June 20th. Nowhere in the blog post did Photobucket highlight the most important change, which was that it will now cost uploaders $400 a year to insert their photos on another website using direct image links.

Photobucket, which launched in 2003, was previously free for all users to upload and embed images all over the web. It was a popular image hosting service of choice for early 2000s bloggers (think Xanga and LiveJournal) until the likes of Facebook and Instagram came along. Since then, it remained widely used by small businesses selling items through online marketplaces, offering 2GB of storage for free or $100 a year for 102GB of storage (the most popular paid plan, according to the service). The update to Photobucket’s ToS, however, means users are forced to upgrade to the most premium tier if they wish to hotlink.

You can imagine, then, the outrage that ensued. It appears some users can’t even download their own photos out of their Photobucket accounts without upgrading.

Photobucket’s response so far has been a short acknowledgement on Twitter, with no apology to be seen.

Sigh. It’s like Angelfire all over again.


Hence why it’s pretty short-sighted to trust a cloud to store/protect your images. The fact that these people don’t have their images stored somewhere outside of Photobucket is pure naivety. Especially as business. Tossing all of your photos into a virtual 3rd party basket & getting rid of the original files just doesn’t make sense. Best bet for them would be to just screenshot the content & deal with the lower resolution.

you are right but the way they (photobucket) handled this change in the ToS is pure garbage.

The issue isn’t so much with not having copies of your images but with the fact that many folks have years of content where images are linked to the photobucket URL. Even if they have backups, it is a tremendous amount of manual work to update all your links, especially since the photobucket URLs likely do not match the original filenames in any way.

Aren’t the images still stored in their photobucket account? Unless they added them to a generic URL upload and not their own account, and if so they’re sol.

It would appear from some of the tweets that users haven’t even been able to access their own photos without upgrading to the new account tier.

This shakedown strategy always indicates when a company is on its last legs — and it rarely ends well for any party involved.

Bittersweet, as I enjoyed Photobucket a decade ago, before they doubled-down onto an archaic business model in response to competition from Imgur, Google Photos, Flickr, etc.

I assume they’ll also find some way to charge for users to download their archive once it becomes clear everyone jumps ship? It’s the least they could do.

A couple things….

1. NEVER trust a cloud service to hold the one and only copy of your images.

2. I hate to sound harsh, but if you still use photobucket in 2017 then you should have expected something like this. The company has been hemorrhaging money for years now.

Well looks like someone didn’t read the article? Users still have access to all their photos, for free. They just can’t hot link.

Yes, it certainly does appear that someone didn’t read the article:

It appears some users can’t even download their own photos out of their Photobucket accounts without upgrading.

That and the last user tweet.

This was extremely satisfying to read, thank you.

Amazon’s item pictures are allowed to be hosted outside the site? sounds like a recipe for disaster.

I took this as Photobucket wanting to get out of the hosting business and get out of it fast. But not letting people download their photos without paying a lot of money makes this much more nefarious and turns it into extorting people instead of just wanting them to leave. This was really stupid, especially doing it to people who paid for the yearly 102gb, its probably going to end a lot worse for them than if they had just closed.

it is a recipe for disaster. I remember a long time ago a picture I had hosted on my site was linked all throughout a forum by everyone, so as a joke I switched the picture out to a forum member eating a photoshopped dick. Now that pic was instantly everywhere on the website cause they had all linked to the file location I controlled.

Moral, never rely on outside links.

A long time ago when gay jokes were still cool?

a forum member

Dunno if gender was implied there.

You must be Kyle’s father.

Seriously, I used to work with Seller Central (pos) a lot, and never knew this was a thing?

IIRC, Amazon uploads your image and hosts it themselves. What is very possible is that some sellers are updating their entire catalog regularily, and the photo URLs included in the API calls or XML files are no longer resolving to an image Amazon knows and has previously fetched, but to a new one with the hotlink message from Photobucket. Which in turn, forces Amazon to upload that new image on to their servers. And then the listings are screwed.

Been ages since I worked at Amazon so I could be wrong.

Never trust the cloud. That’s why I use the cloud just for disposable stuff.

It’s not just about "the cloud" and I wish people would stop making that point. You can’t hotlink from a local file on your desktop. It’s going to be in "the cloud" somewhere no matter what; it’s just a question of where you put it.

There’s no reason to think Photobucket should be any less reliable than any other image host, whether paid or free. They’re choosing to act like dicks. Don’t blame the victims here.

I’m sorry but not keeping a backup is just inviting disaster. Unless photobucket clearly stated they would host your photos in perpetuity, no one is a victim. They gambled on what has been a shitty host since day one and they lost.

Always have a backup. And to paraphrase Gillian Flynn, always have a backup for the backup.

Wait, even if you have the regular hosting plan for $100/year you can’t download your own photos? That doesn’t make sense, why can’t you download it from your own photobucket account without the hotlinks? Just download them and re-upload them elsewhere.

My partner successfully downloaded her photos, she has a free account.

Just like the Russian hacker’s ransomware. The only difference is you don’t have to pay in BitCoin.

Anyways, this is not extortion. You can download your photos if you want to leave PB. Free accounts included.

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