Tons of smartphone users take advantage of Instapaper to easily keep up with news and info, on their own schedules. What started out as an iOS app has since been ported to Android, letting users save phone-optimized copies of their favorite sites in order to read them later. While that should all be very straightforward, a recent incident concerning developer Marco Arment and site 9to5 Mac are raising the specter of censorship.
The full story of what went down between Arment and 9to5 Mac is a pretty detailed (and just a bit sordid) tale, but the gist of it is that 9to5 Mac accidentally spelled Arment’s name wrong once, speculated about whether the app might have been involved in the now-debunked story of the FBI UDID leak, and jokingly called the app “Instascraper”.
The sum total of all this has gotten Arment a little bent out of shape, and so he proactively blocked 9to5 Mac access for Instapaper users by means of a tool allowing sites to opt-out of the app’s coverage. So, users saw a message claiming that the site chose not to support Instapaper, while instead the block was fully on Arment’s hands. After 9to5 Mac complained, he changed the message “Instapaper cannot save pages from the site”, which still isn’t true.
All this would be amusing if it didn’t bring up some concerns about how many people really have influence over how we access the internet through our phones and tablets. Are there other developers out there who may have vendettas against one individual, company, or even nation, and take steps to keep their users from accessing news on them as a result? At least our browsers are supposed to be neutral, but the more third-party apps like Instapaper we use, the more people we’re giving the opportunity to interfere with how we get our data.