Last week, 9to5mac published this article in which the author intentionally derided me and Instapaper, called it “Instascraper”, and initially accused Instapaper of being responsible for the now-debunked “FBI” UDID leak. Despite my attempts to get them to correct what they wrote, they refused.
Instapaper’s reputation was severely damaged by the FBI server raid at its former web host. Even though the host claims that the FBI was never in possession of any disks with Instapaper’s data, hundreds of my customers still accused me of giving their data willingly to the FBI and breaching their trust. I was, therefore, defensive about bringing this back up and erroneously linking Instapaper to the FBI yet again, and I was angry at 9to5Mac for willingly putting my company’s reputation in such danger even after they knew this information to be false.
Regarding “Instascraper”, Instapaper (and all similar services) operates in the legal gray area of fair use. I tread lightly with the fair-use liberties I take, because it’s extremely expensive and therefore effectively impossible for a small company like Instapaper to defend itself against such claims. Name-calling my service “Instascraper” suggests that 9to5Mac sees it as nothing more than a “scraper”, a derisive term implying infringement beyond fair use. Furthermore, 9to5Mac’s behavior and communication with me repeatedly and clearly showed that they did not like Instapaper or me, and were not interested in correcting what they wrote or being anything but hostile.
With my anger about the FBI implication, and my fear about how they might behave legally in the future, I overreacted.
I did what I could, albeit embarrassingly after civil attempts failed, to try to get 9to5Mac to correct their FBI statements. That’s all I really could do short of pursuing a libel claim, which I thought would be overkill. But regarding the legal “scraper” concern, I thought the safest course of action for Instapaper’s long-term health was to block Instapaper from fetching 9to5Mac’s pages.
Instapaper has offered a publisher opt-out for years, and it’s the only service of its type to offer this publicly on the website for all publishers to see. The last thing I want is for Instapaper to have a hostile relationship with any publisher, so I give publishers complete control. I offer the opt-out confidently, knowing that major publishers don’t object to Instapaper, and many of them actually love it. But since no major publisher has opted out, very few Instapaper customers have ever seen the opt-out message.
The best way to prevent Instapaper from accessing 9to5Mac’s pages was to add them to the opt-out list. So I did that, thinking I’d let the dust settle and reevaluate that decision later once I had a better idea of how they felt about Instapaper.
In retrospect, that was an overreaction. 9to5Mac’s statements, as much as they angered and scared me, did not constitute an opt-out. Furthermore, it was inappropriate to add a publisher to the opt-out list that did not explicitly request it.
I’ve now reversed that decision, and I’m sorry that I overreacted.