Photographers Outraged by Adobe’s New Privacy and Content Terms

An image featuring five people close together, each with a look of intense emotion while shouting. The Adobe logo, in bright red text with the "A" symbol, overlays the center, partially obscuring the faces. The background and faces appear gritty and textured.

Adobe, no stranger to controversy, finds itself in hot water yet again. People have taken note of updated terms of use for using Adobe software and are outraged, fearing that Adobe has complete access to a user’s content.

Update 6/7: Adobe has published a clarification of its Terms of Use in response to the controversy. The new document, among other things, reaffirms much of what Scott Belsky said on X, formerly Twitter, which is included near the bottom of the original article below. A new article explaining Adobe’s new blog post is available here.

Concerning Adobe Pop-Up Stokes Fires of Controversy and Anger Among Creatives

A pop-up notice being served to some Adobe users — none at PetaPixel, as of yet — says that Adobe has updated the Adobe General Terms of Use regarding the use of its Software and Services, including clarifications concerning content access (sections 2.2 and 4.1), the right to delete content for inactive accounts (section 5.3), and reduced the period to informally resolve disputes from 60 to 30 days (Section 14.1).

Image showing an "Updated Terms of Use" notice for Adobe Software and Services. Key changes highlighted include manual and automated content access, clearer data deletion terms, and a longer dispute resolution period. Button at the bottom reads "Accept and Continue.
The Adobe pop-up that’s causing concern among creatives. Image via @Stretchedwiener.

If users want to continue using the Adobe app in question, they must accept the revised terms of use, which is standard practice. They cannot continue using Adobe apps and services if they close the window without accepting.

One sentence in the pop-up has raised hackles among creative professionals: “Clarified that we may access your content through both automated and manual methods, such as for content review.”

“So Adobe can now spy on all the projects being worked on right now? That’s insane,” writes one Reddit user in a highly upvoted post about the controversy on r/technology.

“All that NDA work…” another user laments.

Numerous creative professionals are extremely upset, too, including designer Wetterschneider and artist Sam Santala.

It is entirely understandable why people are immediately skeptical of Adobe — the instant outrage makes sense. The company lives inside a public relations prison of its own design. People have had concerns about Adobe’s content analysis practices and its marketing, which has angered photographers and even garnered an open letter from the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP). That is all to say that Adobe has squandered any benefit of the doubt it may have once had by virtue of its business practices, public comments, increasing emphasis on AI technology, and, frankly, its stranglehold on creative software markets.

What Adobe’s (Confusing) Terms of Use Say

However, it is crucial to understand precisely what is going on with Adobe’s terms of use, what has changed, and what the company claims it has access to if someone continues to use its software.

In section 2.2 of Adobe’s General Terms of Use, titled “Our Access to Your Content,” Adobe says it may “access, view, or listen to your Content (defined in section 4.1 (Content) below) through both automated and manual methods, but only in limited ways, and only as permitted by law.”

Adobe continues:

“For example, in order to provide the Services and Software, we may need to access, view, or listen to your Content to (A) respond to Feedback or support requests; (B) detect, prevent, or otherwise address fraud, security, legal, or technical issues; and (C) enforce the Terms, as further set forth in Section 4.1 below. Our automated systems may analyze your Content and Creative Cloud Customer Fonts (defined in section 3.10 (Creative Cloud Customer Fonts) below) using techniques such as machine learning in order to improve our Services and Software and the user experience. Information on how Adobe uses machine learning can be found here:”

Alright, so what is “content”?

“‘Content’ means any text, information, communication, or material, such as audio files, video files, electronic documents, or images, that you upload, import into, embed for use by, or create using the Services and Software. We reserve the right (but do not have the obligation) to remove Content or restrict access to Content, Services, and Software if any of your Content is found to be in violation of the Terms. We do not review all Content uploaded to the Services and Software, but we may use available technologies, vendors, or processes, including manual review, to screen for certain types of illegal content (for example, child sexual abuse material) or other abusive content or behavior (for example, patterns of activity that indicate spam or phishing, or keywords that indicate adult content has been posted outside of the adult wall). You may learn more about our content moderation policies and practices, including how we moderate content, at our Transparency Center,” Adobe explains in section 4.1 of its General Terms of Use.

Another section that has garnered some attention is section 4.2, Licenses to Your Content. Here, Adobe explains that “solely for the purposes of operating or improving the Services and Software, you grant us a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free sublicensable, license, to use, reproduce, publicly display, distribute, modify, create derivative works based on, publicly perform, and translate the Content.”

That doesn’t sound great.

Adobe continues, “For example, we may sublicense our right to the Content to our service providers or to other users to allow the Services and Software to operate as intended, such as enabling you to share photos with others. Separately, section 4.6 (Feedback) below covers any Feedback that you provide to us.”

For Adobe software and services to enable content sharing between users, it does require some form of a license over the content, as it must hold that content somewhere to do anything with it.

Section 4.3, Ownership, explains that “As between you and Adobe, you (as a Business User or a Personal User, as applicable) retain all rights and ownership of your Content (or where applicable, you must ensure that you or the Business (as applicable) have a valid license to the Content). We do not claim any ownership rights to your Content.”

Concerning how Adobe accesses and analyzes user content, the company has discussed this numerous times, including most recently in February. The information below remains in effect and has not been altered by any recent revisions to the user agreement.

“Adobe may analyze your content that is processed or stored on Adobe servers. We don’t analyze content processed or stored locally on your device. When we analyze your content for product improvement and development purposes, we first aggregate your content with other content and then use the aggregated content to train our algorithms and thus improve our products and services. If you don’t want Adobe to use your content for these purposes, you can opt out of content analysis at any time (view details and exceptions described). Read more about how Adobe may analyze your content in Document Cloud products and services.”

Exceptions include public contributions to Adobe platforms, including Adobe Stock and Behance, content live-streamed on Adobe Live, content submitted for featuring on Adobe Express, and content submitted as tutorials in Lightroom. Users can also not exclude themselves from content analysis if they use prerelease, beta, or early access Adobe software — and Adobe has been heavily pushing the newest Photoshop Beta on users with banners and pop-ups (a frustration for another day, perhaps). Further, content submitted by the user for manual review, like in the Photoshop Improvement Program, is subject to analysis, of course.

What Does it All Mean for Photographers?

Where does that leave photographers and other creative professionals? Like all things concerning terms of use and user agreements, people are left confused and absorbed by a quagmire of legalese.

However, there are some conclusions that may prove instructive. Adobe does not claim the right to analyze content stored locally — only content that is processed or stored on Adobe servers. It is easy not to store content on Adobe servers; don’t use Creative Cloud services. The “processed” part is a bit more complicated, as numerous features in software like Lightroom and Photoshop uses AI, which relies upon Adobe servers to operate.

This is also an excellent time to remind Adobe users that, by default, Adobe may analyze a user’s content. Users must go to their Data and privacy settings and opt out of content analysis.

Screenshot of Adobe Account's Data and Privacy Settings page. The sections include Desktop App Usage, Content Analysis, Connected Apps, and Delete Adobe Account. Various toggles allow users to control data sharing preferences, with options to learn more.
The “content analysis” setting is enabled by default. Users must manually disable it in their privacy settings.

Adobe (Kind of) Responds to the Controversy

The ongoing controversy also touches on something important about Adobe’s terms of use: They don’t clearly describe what Adobe can or cannot do with user content or explain how and when Adobe may analyze what a person creates in Adobe software.

This is a problem that Adobe’s Scott Belsky has acknowledged in a comment thread on X.

“While the team addresses your legal questions, I can clearly state that Adobe does NOT train any GenAI models on customer’s content, and we obviously have tight security around any form of access to customer’s content. As a company that stores cloud documents and assets for customers, there are probably circumstances (like indexing to help you search your documents, updating components used from CC libraries across your documents, among others) where the company’s terms of service allow for some degree of access,” Belsky explains (emphasis is his).

Unsurprisingly, some users locked in on Belsky’s use of the term “probably,” as it opens the door for uncertainty.

In a follow-up comment, Belsky adds:

“‘Solely for the purpose of operating…’ For clarity: any modern software company that has features like reproducing as thumbnails, enabling users to share for review and approval via web link, auto generating variations, indexing for search etc — requires a license (or for third-party service you may use for cloud storage, a sublicense for integrations). Obviously ‘solely for the purpose’ should make it clear that nobody is claiming ownership of your work.”

“But I agree the summary wording is unclear and I’ve given that feedback to legal. the actual TOS are similar to any other modern software provider with cloud features that requires the service be able to ‘access’ a file — like when a user wants to open it on Photoshop web app, needs files indexed for search purposes, chooses to share a document for review online with a colleague, auto-tagging in Lightroom, or other cloud-enabled capabilities. And many of these capabilities technically require a license ‘solely for the purpose of operating’ as stated. Adobe has had something like this in TOS for over a decade.”

Belsky has been busy replying to others on X, too, adding a bit more context.

“But trust and transparency couldn’t be more crucial these days, and we need to be clear when it comes to summarizing terms of service in these pop-ups,” Belsky explains in a separate thread.

That’s something everyone can agree on: trust and transparency are imperative. Whether Adobe is claiming ownership of user content — it isn’t — or analyzing a user’s content — it sometimes is, especially if a user stores content on Adobe’s servers — the big issue here is that many users are extremely skeptical of Adobe’s behavior and motives. If that remains the case, the internet will remain fertile ground for outrage and controversy about Adobe.

PetaPixel contacted Adobe for comment but has not received a response.

Image credits: Header photo created using an image licensed via Depositphotos.