The Fine Print of Photo Sites II: Are Your Images Really Safe Online?Last month we scoured the terms and conditions for Facebook, Flickr, Snapfish, Shutterfly, Picas Web Albums, and Kodak Gallery to see if those photos you’ve been uploading are really as secure as you think they are. Here’s the fine print from several other of the major online photo players that may (or may not) be the best call for long-term online photo storage.

Photobucket

As soon as you log onto the Photobucket site, you’ll see — prominently displayed next to the site’s “Capture Forever. Share Today” tagline — the assurance that you can “upload, manage, and share your photos and videos for FREE.” This standard gratis account gives you 500MB of storage space and 10GB a month of bandwidth; there’s no file size limit for images with a display size up to 1024×768 pixels (the images are resized to meet Photobucket constraints anyway). You’re limited, however, to these Web-sized images if you opt for the free account.

Upgrade to a PRO or commercial account, however, and you get unlimited storage space and bandwidth. While your account displays sized-down images only (up to 2MB, or 4000 x 3000 per image), your original high-res images (up to 20MB each) are saved behind the scenes for future downloading. However, to make sure the high-res versions are saved, make sure you click “Upload images in high resolution” in the Bulk Uploader tool. A PRO account will set you back $2.99 each month, or you can pony up $24.95 for the year ($39.90 for two years).

But, as we know, nothing is ever really free. On Photobucket’s Terms of Use page, we find the first caveat to this storage free-for-all: “In order to participate in certain Photobucket Services, you may be notified that you are required to download software or content and/or agree to additional terms and conditions from Photobucket.” I’m the kind of gal who likes to know what I’m agreeing to from the get-go — not receive even more legal mumbo-jumbo some time down the line. I’m also not too keen on being forced to download software or content to remain a valued member of the Photobucket family.

Plus — similar to other sites that don’t make you pay for the privilege of keeping your photos online — Photobucket lists a litany of “rights,” including the site’s right “to deny, restrict, suspend, or terminate your access to all or any part of the Photobucket Services at any time, for any or no reason, with or without prior notice or explanation, and without liability.” And while the Photobucket powers-that-be “normally” will only delete content if you violate their pretty typical user agreement (no porn, illegal activity, etc.), it also sneaks in that it still can delete your images for “any reason, without prior notice.” Caveat emptor.

my Picturetown

Nikon’s picture-sharing site offers a similar setup to Photobucket’s: Stick with the free account for a 2GB storage capacity (which my Picturetown estimates to be about 2,000 images with a file size of 1MB each), or move on up the privileges ladder by springing for the Gold account. For $2.99 to $29.90 per month, you can up your archiving ante in 20GB increments; the price you pay depends on what storage package you select, ranging from 20GB to 200GB.

You can upload images in their original state, with no limit on size or resolution (i.e., they’re not resized when you upload). You can retrieve your images, using ViewNX 2, Nikon’s free image-editing software, although the main purpose of the site seems to be “sharing” photos with family and friends on Facebook, Flickr, and other social media networks. According to the terms of use,the site also notes that it can remove all of your content without notice if you violate the service agreement or fail to access the my Picturetown service for more than one year, so make sure you check in now and again just to keep everything in good standing.

SeeHere

Fujifilm’s SeeHere offers unlimited storage for your photos and Web albums. It stores your high-resolution images free of charge — as long as you make at least one purchase per year (according to the customer care section, this can include prints, posters, photo books, or photo gifts).

A nice perk of the site is that you can convert your Web albums into a Web page, with a custom design and your own URL (this is all free). Plus, according to the help center, you can download your high-res images (individual pictures or albums) as a .zip file right to your computer.

Like many of the other sites we’ve browsed, SeeHere can suspend or terminate your account and destroy (yes, the Terms of Use actually use the word “destroy”) any images you may have uploaded without any prior notice. The site indicates that it will remove abandoned accounts after a “reasonable” amount of time. It also warns that the service is “not designed or intended to be used as a disaster recovery or emergency data storage facility.”

SmugMugSmugMug

SmugMug stands out from many of the photo sites listed here in that there’s no free account available: Users can opt for the Basic ($5 a month; $40 year); Power ($8 a month; $60 a year); or Pro ($20 a month; $150 a year). All three accounts offer unlimited uploads (with a maximum photo file size of 24MB), ability to retrieve your photos anytime for download, and no reduction in resolution.

Another advantage of signing up for SmugMug status: You don’t have to worry about losing your photos if you don’t buy prints and merchandise. Plus, all photos on the site are backed up to Amazon’s network of datacenters — so a software bug or other malfunction won’t wipe out your photos in one fell swoop.  Its Terms do still warn you not to rely on the service alone for storage of your photos, but this seems like a pretty standard caveat on all of the sites these days.

Webshots

One thousand photos may have seemed like a lot, say, 10 years ago, but I can shoot that many on a week’s vacation to Disney World. Perhaps that’s why the free account you get on Webshots doesn’t sound particularly practical: 1,000 images is all you’re allowed to upload, plus another 100 for every month you maintain your account.

For $29.88 a year, you can move up to a Premium membership (at press time, the site was offering a promo for $19.99 a year). This upgrade lets you upload 5,000 images, plus 500 for every month you’re a member. Plus, with Premium membership, you get access to higher-res photos (1200 x 1600 pixels, 120k–130k per image); hang tough with the free account and you’re stuck with the regular Webshots images (800 x 600 pixels, 300k–800k per image).

Webshots spells out its do’s and don’ts pretty clearly in its Terms section. Here’s a hint: Refrain from posting pics of “women in sheer or wet tops”; “women or men wearing thongs (g-strings)”; or “photos that concentrate on the genital area.” Do so and you risk your account being restricted, suspended, or terminated, and all of your content removed from cyberspace. They also want to see your smiling face on their site as often as possible: Webshots reserves the right to delete pictures from accounts that have been dormant for more than six months.

Bottom Line: So where are your photos safest and, just as importantly, where will you get the best bang for your photo-storing buck? Most of these sites offer an OK deal for what you’re shelling out (um, nothing). However, the most economical solution doesn’t necessarily have to translate to “free” — for just $5 a month, SmugMug offers a basic account that gives you unlimited storage, high-res versions of your photos for download, a decent-sounding backup plan, and no fine print that requires you keep buying what they’re hawking to keep your account in good standing. That’s five bucks well-spent in my book — especially for something as important as my images.