16 July 2018

The Verge: “Instapaper is temporarily shutting off access for European users due to GDPR”

Popular read-it-later app Instapaper informed all European users today that its service would be temporarily unavailable starting Thursday, May 24th while it continues to make changes to ensure it’s compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. The privacy rule, which sets new restrictions on how companies operating in the EU manage and share personal data, goes into effect on Friday, May 25th. News of the shutdown was reported first by writer and technologist Owen Williams.

Nick Statt

‘Temporarily’ is starting to sound more and more like ‘indefinitely’, as it’s been almost two months since, with no progress or updates. I personally didn’t rely on the service too much. My workflow was to send longform articles to my Kindle and read them without distractions, mostly on my daily commute. A couple of years ago, I started using Instapaper precisely for this reason: to more easily send articles to my Kindle, because the Kindle extension sometimes had trouble extracting text from complicated webpage layouts. As the extensions steadily improved, I needed Instapaper less and less for this purpose.

Instapaper temporarily unavailable for users in Europe

I also never understood the enthusiasm surrounding it – the web site was bare-bones at best (the only explanation I can come up with is that Instapaper was originally built by Marco Arment, and as such associated by fans with Apple). After around a week of waiting, I simply downloaded a list on my saved articles and moved on.

The only feature I miss from Instapaper was better support for notes – when you highlight articles on the Kindle, the note is saved only on the device, not synced to your online account, as it does for book highlights – a missed opportunity for Amazon if you ask me. But finding a comparable alternative proved next to impossible. The only similar service I found is Pocket, but it has an unreasonable limitation of three(!) highlights per article, and a ridiculous price ($45/year) for the premium version with unlimited highlights. There’s also Web Notes in Microsoft Edge, but I never quite trusted that a browser will save them correctly, or sync across devices – I would feel much more comfortable if Edge’s Reading List would be a separate app, not a minor side-feature in the browser.

Just as I was writing this, news hit that Instapaper is in the process of becoming an independent company again. While this may explain the lack of updates on the GDPR front, it doesn’t inspire confidence for the future. The team announces almost mockingly that they are focused on ‘providing a great reading application to our users’, while at the same time staying completely silent about the EU shutdown. If they don’t care enough about this particular group of users, how can anyone expect them to care about the rest?!

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