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Photobucket replaces millions of images with ‘ransom demand’

Jul 05, 20174 mins

Photobucket tells users no more free hotlinking for you, replaces millions of images with 'ransom demand'

money ransom
Credit: Thinkstock

If you’ve been shopping online over the last week or so, you may have run across listings that do not include an image of the product but do include a Photobucket error message image. That’s because the company quietly did away with free image embedding on third-party websites. It’s a move that is being compared to Photobucket holding its users’ photos for ransom.

Over the last 14 years, Photobucket claims to have hosted over 15 billion images for 100 million registered users, serving up more than “120 billion photos and videos to over three million websites.” The difference in the number of the photos served as opposed to hosted is because a user may embed the same image on multiple shopping sites, such as eBay, Amazon and Etsy, as well as on forums and other sites. By doing away with free hotlinking, Photobucket has effectively broken billions of images on the internet.

Sure, bandwidth is expensive, but the company previously made money by serving up ads to its users as they used the site. While it’s not a crime to try to make a profit without depending on ads, Photobucket seems to have shot itself in the foot, aka corporate suicide, after replacing countless embedded images with an unsightly image saying, “Please update your account to enable 3rd party hosting.”

On June 26, the Photobucket blog briefly noted its updated Terms of Service, which went into effect on June 20. In the three-sentence post, there is no mention of the end of hotlinking unless users pay a $399 annual fee. After clicking to view the new terms, there is a list of three paid account plans, but only the $400 Plus 500 Plan allows for third-party image hosting.

Loyal Photobucket users are furious; many describing the move with terms such as ransom and extortion.

Instead of paying the ransom annual fee, many Photobucket users are turning to other sites that still allow hotlinking.

Stampboards pointed out that users “have no guarantee [Photobucket] will still be in business even in a month the way this disaster is rolling out.” Instead of paying to remove the “’WannaCry’ Gangster like $US400 cash Demand dial,” the forum announcement suggested, “someone at Photobucket with a brain will see the disaster they have unleashed, and back off totally, or in large part in the next week.”

A few other users have come up with workarounds, such as a Chrome extension that is supposed to show the actual embedded image instead of the error message and a fix that is supposed to convert blocked Photobucket images into a working URL.

Maybe you don’t have 14 years of images and artwork stored on Photobucket, or you might not use Photobucket and therefore believe this change in policy won’t affect you at all. However, as a Reddit user suggested:

Regardless of your feelings about Photobucket, yes they suck, yes you should have seen this coming, yes there are other image hosts, it’s all irrelevant. You will search Google for a DIY how-to and the pictures from 2006 will be down. You will search a Honda forum for how to repair a 2010 Honda Pilot power steering noise and the pictures will be down. You will look for a Halloween pumpkin idea from a blog and it will be text only with a bunch of image links.

There are other options, but if you are considering Imgur then you might be interested to know that at least one Imgur user claimed, “Direct Imgur file links now hijack your browser with custom scripts that track you while doubling the load time. Even worse, it defeats its own purpose by shrinking images to half the size.”

ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.