The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

April 13, 2012

Joe Hadsall: Instagram sale shows we are products, not customers

By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor

JOPLIN, Mo. — An interesting maxim has circulated across the Internet over the last couple of years:

“If you’re not the customer, you’re the product.”

However, radio and TV broadcasters have known that maxim for years -- only in this form:

“TANSTAAFL: There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.”

Even though “ain’t” isn’t a negative contraction, it’s clearly a negative, which means that I have spent more years obsessing about the bad grammar in that sentence. My economics teachers wish I would have concentrated more on the overriding philosophy behind it. Namely, that everything has a price and nothing is free.

Which puts Facebook’s impending purchase of Instagram in an impressive, my-econ-teacher-was-actually-    right-about-something light.

Founder Mark Zuckerberg made the announcement Monday that the social networking site would buy Instagram for $1 billion. Not for any profit possibilities, according to Bruce Upbin of Forbes, but for competitive positioning. He wrote that while the move doesn’t appear to have immediate benefits for Facebook, but it brings serious potential harm to Yahoo and its photo-sharing site, Flickr.

“Zuckerberg is playing chess, making a defining move in how it stands in the photo space,” he wrote. “It’s like what Google did with YouTube.”

Why should a geek, much less anyone, care about this sale? Mainly because geeks know things about smartphones and potentially dangerous data they can mine and broadcast. Things that the average user doesn’t usually know, but should.

And I’m very sensitive about my data getting mined. Heck, my theory on clothing should tell you how I feel about corporate involvement: I refuse to buy a T-shirt, hat or any other piece of clothing that displays a corporate logo as fashion. I’m not going to advertise for anything I don’t support philosophically.

Hollister and American Eagle should pay ME to wear their logos. Izod or Polo rugby shirts? To heck with those dumb-looking patches masquerading as good taste.

If I don’t want corporate stuff on me, I sure as heck don’t want them to have my data to sell or use for their own profit. So I’m very careful about location settings and other personal data getting used by an app.

Because I’m a BlackBerry guy, I don’t have much problem with that. There’s not a lot of apps for us, compared to iOS and Droid. And that gets me back to Instagram ...

Instagram is a free program and sharing site -- iOS and Droid users can download the app and do everything with it at no extra cost. It’s not available on BlackBerry, but that’s OK by me. I paid top dollar for a camera and phone that take good, high-resolution pictures, and I don’t want Instagram messing that up.

Go back to that chess game: Facebook pays a trenta (that’s hipster, Starbucks-speak for “a billion”) to acquire a service that brings in no revenue. They only reason to do that is to enhance Facebook’s user experience and offer users the integration of a popular service. Will the acquisition bring in new users? Maybe some, but not many, because Instagram users are already all over Facebook. (How else do you think I see all these crappy, hipster, Polaroid wanna-be shots?)

In other words, it’s an experience enhancement to get people using Facebook more. More shares and links means more ad views and possible clicks.

If you’re not paying, you’re the product. Remember that when configuiring privacy services.