InstaTake and the short earthquake in the privacy debate

How a little tool inflamed the Internet for a while, making Instagram step in.

Previously On InstaTake

I just love coding, hacking, finding solutions while imagining new possibilities. That’s why, everytime I feel inspired, I try to find a couple of hours for my personal experimentations. From a certain point of view, you could say it’s kind of an artistic experience.

Some weeks ago, I created a simple script to download Instragram pictures from any public profile. Just with a click. No sign-up. No software installation needed.

I wrote it in few hours and called it InstaTake.

Inspiration Comes When You Least Expect It

Guess what! Brilliant ideas, not necessarily successful, tend to come when you least expect them, in unexpected ways.

A friend of mine asked me some tips to backup his old Instagram account. Unfortunately he had lost the password so he was pretty worried. I processed the situation out loud: “pics are public”, “we could save them from your web account”, “I can probably automate that”, “with a little bit of javascript maybe…”, “Well, I can make it”.

Instatake was about to take shape.

Visibility Is Often A Matter Of Luck was ready to take off, and I just thought to boost it a little on ProductHunt, a really amazing community where you can find great new products, every day.

After a while, someone from TheNextWeb (probably noticed it and) wrote a post. Suddenly, InstaTake happened to be featured on the homepage of one of the biggest tech blogs in the world.

I was both surprised and sad. Several times I had tried to contact TheNextWeb to pitch my startup always to no avail. And now, with a handful of JavaScript code I got featured!

Don’t Keep Calm

An earthquake just happened: top product on ProductHunt; 1000+ tweets, 4000+ downloads. I soon realized InstaTake was going to become that “love it or hate it” tool.

Feedbacks indeed were basically “Awesome! I really needed a tool like this” or “OMG! This is a huge privacy violation”.

Then, the inevitable happened: Instagram wrote me an email, kindly asking me to shut down Instatake, basically for two reasons: I could not use “Insta” and enabling people to download pictures from other profiles was pretty out of the question.

We did discuss the situation and eventually, I decided to close InstaTake.

The public opinion remained split with roughly half complaining “Instagram can’t just do this! Developers must be free.” while the other half exulting “Great! It was the perfect tool for stalkers” . Love it or hate it, as I said above.

The Knife Story

I was feeling very upset, then a little story came to my mind. My father used to tell me when I was a kid:

With a knife you can cut your steak and you can also kill a man, should we arrest those manufacturers because they boost murders?

I had seen a need, then I had found a solution and I, naively, thought it could be useful for a lot of people indeed.

Instagram didn’t want to hear any explanations. A tool like InstaTake sounded too dangerous and stalker-friendly.

It must be said that both TheNextWeb and ProductHunt actually took a stand. They pointed out that there were legitimate uses for this tool and users are always responsible for their behaviour.

I Know What You Did

In a couple of hours the hype simply ended, but I had some very interesting private chats with people who wanted to know more about the whole story.

We all came to agree that Instagram’s reasons were pretty questionable. Some aspects could be seen in a completely different light depending on the supporting arguments.

But, even more interesting was to discover that a lot of people do have a twisted perception of privacy. They needed a tool like InstaTake to realize that all our pictures (not only on Instagram) are public. Available to everyone. In few seconds. With tons of web tools or just with the good old “right-click-and-save”.

Anyone could download, forever and without your permission, all your cakes, cats and selfies. Long before InstaTake!

Note: InstaTake source code is now available on GitHub.

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