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

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Thousands of listings from online marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, and Etsy 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 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.

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