Tumblr Scanning Images for Branded Content: Should Users be Worried?

Users and tech insiders seem concerned about Tumblr's deal with Ditto to scan images for brand content -- but the practice isn't anything new.


Tumblr has become a go-to platform for sharing dynamic images — the site sees an average of 130 million photo uploads per day. With so many new images, it was only a matter of time until Tumblr began to exploit this resource. Tumblr made a deal with Ditto labs to scan these images for branded content, and some users are up in arms.

Identifying brand content in Tumblr images, when no text, hashtags or other identifiers are present, could be a major boon to brand holders.

“If Coke wants to understand the nature of the conversation [about them on Tumblr] Ditto can sift through and deliver it to Coke,” said T.R. Newcomb, head of business development at Tumblr, adding that there are no immediate plans to use this as a monetization or advertising tool.

Some commentators are very worried about this move. Motherboard contributor Jordan Pearson, writes:

It was only a matter of time until [Tumblr] figured out a way to monetize its sizable cultural cachet, but for a platform that prides itself on facilitating self-expression and a degree of anonymity, it’s an unsettling move at the very least.”

As if since the purchase by Yahoo, everyone was waiting for Tumblr to put on a wax mustache, and then twirl it.

But scanning images on Tumblr for branded content isn’t new: Curulate starting doing this exact thing on Tumblr in April. At the time, Curulate CEO Apu Gupta said “Curalate consumes the entire Tumblr firehose.” Similarly, Ditto CEO Dave Rose, told Motherboard “What’s different about Tumblr is that they’re supplying us with the entire firehose of all photos that we’re then able to interpret.” Even the language is the same.

The ability to tap into wordless conversations through image recognition could be seen as an inevitability. Todd Wasserman, Mashable’s business and marketing editor, listed off a handful of initiatives and companies that are trying to tap into this brand bonanza. The outrage is misplaced, because we’ve known for a long time that in the social media world, if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product.