Last week, I went to see Professors Zittain and Lessig in conversation about the Dilemmas of Open Knowledge at the Harvard 375 roadshow in San Francisco. In response to a question about data and consumer privacy, Zittrain added on to the old maxim that if you were getting something for free online, you were paying for it with your data. Now, he said, even if you were paying for a service, a company was likely making money with your data too.
I’ve been thinking about Zittrain’s words all day following the Insta-Facebook announcement. One of the reasons that I like Instagram is that I hate giving my data to Facebook. I recognize the utility of Facebook as my de facto digital address book and as an event notifier, but I feel powerless when it comes to my data on Facebook. Even though I wiped out bands and movies that I like from Facebook years ago (I’m thinking it has been at least 4 years since I “deleted” this info), I still get Facebook ads related to this old data. And I hate that even though I disabled publishing of location and status tags on Facebook, my friends and family report additional data about me to Facebook. Even if it’s “private,” Facebook still knows it. Even if I hit ignore, Facebook still knows it.
Thus, I embrace Facebook alternatives, and I’m saddened when Facebook acquires these alternatives. With Beluga, I was sad because it was highly functional, and Facebook shut it down to force me to use Facebook messaging instead (I resisted). With Friendfeed, I nuked my own account. And now, as the Atlantic has posed, the billion dollar question is, “Will Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram cause an exodus?”
For now, I’m not nuking my Instagram account / app from my phone, because there simply isn’t a good alternative that I can think of off the the top of my head. Harking back to Zittrain’s words at the beginning of this post, one of the very few web services that I pay for is Flickr Pro, but given all of the churn at both Flickr and Yahoo lately, I have no idea what’s going with my data over there. Now, I mainly view Flickr as my backup for old family photos should an earthquake destroy all of our albums.* I swore off Picasa years ago because Google creeps me out as much as Facebook. So, I now feel that when it comes to posting photos online, I’m homeless. The only photo houses available are rigged with CCTV cams inside, so what am I to do?
*My backup method does not feel foolproof to me given Yahoo’s recent woes. I constantly worry about Yahoo sunsetting Flickr.