I wasn’t planning on writing about the Instagram-Facebook merger, but all of the posts about people quitting or asking how to get your data out of Instagram or posting the usual run of “Facebook is evil” just got to me.
Despite their reputations, I continue to use services provided by companies like Facebook and Google (and I will continue to use Instagram). I do this knowing that if there isn’t a product they are selling me, then I must be the product. Why do I do this? Two reasons: 1) I find the value of the services to be worth the risks and 2) I have a fool-proof solution for online security (more on this in a second).
People like Zuckerberg and Page aren’t (that) evil. They run companies, big ones. And big companies exist for one reason: profitability. Sure they could have charged us upfront, but let’s be honest, had Facebook charged every user $5, social networks wouldn’t be where they are today. Had Google chosen to charge an annual subscription rate, search would not be as prevalent in all of our lives. We adopted these technologies because they were free; we embraced them because they were free. And free will always come at a cost. So please stop feigning outrage every time one of these useful services finds a way to continue to exist.
When it comes to Instagram, users already had a viable and established paid option in Hipstamatic. It was mostly ignored. We were either too cheap or enjoyed the social network aspects of Instagram enough to choose the free option. And like many free digital services, when you sign up you are intrinsically agreeing to one of two things: 1) they will sell you shit or 2) they will sell your shit.
Have companies like Google and Facebook made bad decisions on behalf of the users and in favor of their profitability? Absolutely. But it’s often just as likely that they are struggling just as hard as we are to figure out where the line between our privacy and their profitability lives. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes they are downright evil, but just as often they’re likely testing the same boundaries as we are.
So about that fool-proof system for online security… There is only one true privacy setting when it comes to social networks and cloud-based services, and that is your own common sense. It’s determining what your comfortable putting online, knowing full well that it could be compromised or misused, and never crossing that line. It’s not a matter of trying to guess which startups are or aren’t going to let you down and then abandoning them when they inevitably do. It’s assuming they will disappoint and acting accordingly.
If Facebook buying Instagram pissed you off, I have a suggestion. Don’t just stop using Instagram, stop using free social networks and services period. Stop using sites like Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare or Pinterest, because it is a given that they will all inevitably let you down in favor of the bottom line1. More often than not, when you actually quit a service, it’s not because they were evil. It’s just because they either became useless or boring. The reality is that you’re not going to stop using services that are useful to you2. You’re just going to waste time switching from one company to the next until your latest service inevitably falls short or sells out.