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What’s wrong with Facebook buying Instagram?

Apparently the entire online community is pissed to no end that Facebook is buying Instagram. This displeasure has turned into an utter shit storm of unhappiness on Twitter, which in my opinion seems a little unfounded. Maybe it’s just me, but what is wrong with Facebook buying Instagram?

There’s no denying the incredible success Instagram has enjoyed in its short existence. In 18 months, they’ve launched chart-topping apps for iOS and Android, and racked up an impressive 40 million users. For some, it’s a selling point for smartphones. It has birthed an artistic and photographic revolution. And they’ve done it all without earning a penny.

So you’re Instagram, enjoying your phenomenal success yet struggling to secure future investment in your product that currently makes no money. Then suddenly, like a bright white angel descending from heaven, Mark Zuckerberg comes knocking on your door waving a $1 billion cheque made out to you. How the hell do you say no?

I mean sure, we all hope that the little-start-up-that-could will persevere and succeed on their own, but the fact is that they need money to make that happen. Facebook is willing to provide that and a lot more to Instagram. Two social giants coming together. Seems like a perfect fit.

So I ask: what is the problem? Are people really denouncing Instagram for “selling out”? Because in my mind, if you’ve got a start-up that makes no money, a buyer willing to shell out a billion dollars for you and your product, and you agree, that’s not selling out – that’s damn good business.

No, I think the real issue people have with this deal is Facebook. Primarily it seems that people are worried Facebook will somehow “ruin” Instagram. Just like they continue to ruin their own website every time they move something one pixel to the left and suddenly your profile looks different and you can’t find your friends list anymore and OH THE HORROR IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT!

Breathe. Just as most Facebook users overreact with each design change or new feature, so too are we overreacting about this. In his post announcing the acquisition, Mark Zuckerberg stated, “we’re committed to building and growing Instagram independently”. In other words, they have no immediate plans to interfere with Instagram. So relax, and please have a little faith.

But this isn’t the only fear factor at play here. I think a lot of people are starting to view Facebook – and maybe Mark Zuckerberg himself – as Big Brother. Because yes, Facebook is not much more than a bunch of servers filled with the private information of a good portion of the world’s population. And I think a lot of the unhappiness being expressed over the Instagram deal can be traced back to the privacy concerns that have continually plagued Facebook.

What I don’t understand is that we all used to love Facebook. We loved writing on the walls of our friends, sharing pictures of crazy nights out, tending to our virtual livestock and poking those we are closest with. Now, suddenly, Facebook is evil. As with any large corporation or government, Facebook is becoming too large and too powerful, and that scares us. We hate Facebook because they know too much about us.

Umm… hello?!? Did I miss the portion of the sign-up process where Zuckerberg came to my house with a gun and forced me to enter all of my personal information onto his website? Oh that’s right… I DID THAT VOLUNTARILY, AND SO DID YOU! Don’t act like you were tricked into handing over all of your personal information, because you did so happily with the promise that you would gain a flourishing social life. After all, that is the reason we all loved Facebook so much: it’s extremely personal.

Our privacy is not being taken from us, we are relinquishing it voluntarily.

This is what irks me the most about the online privacy debate, which I believe is the true root of the unhappiness surrounding the Facetagram deal. We complain about online privacy and how too much of our personal information is now on the internet, but we are the ones that put it there! We agreed to the Facebook privacy policy, we entered all of our personal information, we uploaded all of our pictures, and we did it all of our own accord! Our privacy is not being taken from us, we are relinquishing it voluntarily.

Why is it that we are so willing to give up our personal information online? It’s the promise of a better online and social experience. So what if Facebook tells an ad agency what I like? I have to look at ads, at least I get to see ads that are relevant to me. So what if Apple shares my location on Find my Friends? It will help me and my friends better communicate and make plans. So what if Google tracks my browsing history? They’ll learn what I like, and help me find those things a lot easier and faster. So long as these services all remain optional, we really have no reason to complain, or worry that we will become the next chapter in 1984. These services all exist for the express purpose of bettering our lives, not harvesting our data. But if you don’t like it, you’re free to get off the ride at any time.

This is how some people see the Instagram acquisition, as just another attempt by Facebook to own even more of our personal data. On the contrary, I believe Facebook saw Instagram as a threat in the online photo sharing space, and instead of attempting to go head to head with them, they simply bought them out. Facebook managed to eliminate the competition while at the same time keeping them alive. And now, as Instagram grows independently, instead of looking on with envy, Facebook can say that they are a part of it.

Rather than assuming that Facebook is going to ruin Instagram, why don’t we hope for the best? So far it seems they have no intention of messing with the success that Instagram has achieved, and if they do eventually make changes to Instagram, maybe they will be good ones (though, as I mentioned, we all know how Facebook users react to change)?

I hope we can learn to have a little faith in big companies like Facebook. After all, we are the ones that made them big. And what if they’re not evil? What if they sincerely want to create for us a set of useful, revolutionary social tools? Wouldn’t that be cool?