By Herb Weisbaum
msnbc.com contributor
updated 3/6/2006 6:29:16 PM ET 2006-03-06T23:29:16

Here’s a heads-up for anyone who uses a Web site offering “free” online photo storage and sharing – check the “Terms and Conditions” page to find out if you are required to do something to keep your membership active and your memories from being erased.

Digital storage isn’t cheap, so these companies are changing the rules to drop members who aren’t making them money. You may now be required to buy something every so often or visit the site a couple of times a year. They goal is to get you on the site on a regular basis; looking at the ads and buying things.

Kodak recently changed the terms and conditions for its EasyShare Gallery. Users now need to make a purchase “at least once every 12 months,” even if it’s just a 15 cent print, to maintain free picture storage.

Hewlett-Packard’s Snapfish requires your “active participation” in the service by “sending in film or purchasing merchandise, including reprints and enlargements” at least once every 365 days.

AOL Pictures says it may “deactivate” your account and destroy your pictures if you don’t log in for 90 days.

The companies that run these photo storage/sharing sites say they notify users before their memberships are terminated or any pictures deleted. Kodak’s Liz Scanlon tells me they send 3 to 5 e-mail reminders. But because these photo sites send users so much other e-mail – trying to sell prints, calendars, picture frames, albums, and coffee mugs – it’s very easy to miss these important alerts.

Remember: these sites can change their rules at any time, for any reason and without notice. So it’s a good idea to check the terms and conditions section a couple of times a year.

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