Facebook, Instagram and your privacy

What would you do if you had a cool $1 billion in spare change lying around? Well if you are Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg, you snap up Instagram, the 15-month-old social networking/photo sharing/mobile phenomenon and its 30 million users.

This was only days after Android users had finally been able to access the service thanks to the newly launched Android app. I was quickly getting addicted to the various filters you can apply to your pics as well as the ability to tag your images and then browse through related pics from all over the world.

So I didn’t feel any of the rage and frustration that the die-hard iPhone users felt at the announcement that Instagram was now part of the Facebook family. (I guess the iPhone users were also still reeling from the shock of us low-brow Android users moving into the neighbourhood 😉 .)

Within hours people were announcing that they were moving their pics off Instagram before Facebook ruined the service. I for one think that Facebook is far too clever to mess with such a simple, elegant and well-liked service. But whenever Facebook’s name crops up, you do need to stop and think about privacy, if only because the social networking site seems to own so much information about individuals already.

CNET quoted Chris Conley, an attorney at the ACLU of Northern California, as saying: “Part of the concern is that it’s Facebook. And their history of privacy and respecting user choices is mixed.”

“The larger issue to me is that Facebook is adding Instagram data to its own,” said Ryan Calo, a privacy researcher at Stanford University’s Center for Internet and Society, in the same CNET article. “Instagram users thought they were signing up for a simple service, of relatively little utility to advertisers or government. Now that data is likely to be combined with an entire social graph. I picture the consumer happily paddling down a data rivulet only to find themselves suddenly on the open waters of the social sea.”

Like I said, I’ve quickly become a big fan of Instagram for a couple of reasons, but mostly because it seems to make the world a smaller place. For example, I tagged my picture above with words like #coriander, #lime and #chilli. Then I could click on those tags and see pics from other people all around the world posting similar photos. See something you like, take a look at that person’s Instagram stream, follow another tag, and before you know it you’ve been viewing the most amazing photography from Tokyo to Tulsa.

But, if a picture says a thousand words, we need to tread carefully around what we share. A smartphone and a camera can be a disastrous combination – what seems like an hilarious idea at the time, can backfire very quickly.

So what should parents, and any Instagram user, for that matter, consider if they want to stay safe online?

Read the rest of this blog post on the Mobiflock site.