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.
Here’s Instapaper’s message in full:
Starting tomorrow May 24, 2018, access to the Instapaper service will be temporarily unavailable for residents in Europe as we continue to make changes in light of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which goes into effect May 25, 2018. We apologize for any inconvenience, and we intend to restore access as soon as possible.
If you have any questions about your account, would like us to generate an export of your saves, or want to check in on our progress, please let us know at email@example.com. We look forward to having the same Instapaper service you know and love accessible in Europe in the very near future. Thanks for your patience.
While we don’t know exactly what’s holding up Instapaper, it’s more than likely to be the GDPR’s data subject access request, which allows any EU resident to request any and all data collected and stored about them. As The Verge reported yesterday, that’s causing companies trouble because it’s not entirely clear right now what information residents will request, what format that information needs to be in, how to locate it and package it, and whether new infrastructure needs to be created to manage this request pipeline. Personal info is a somewhat nebulous concept, and the fact that experts are describing the GDPR as “staggeringly complex” is not making it easy to cover all the bases. (Granted, companies have had two years to prepare for this.)
It’s clear that few companies, if any, will be 100 percent compliant when the law goes into effect. But because the fines are so steep — violating GDPR will cost a company 4 percent of its global turnover or $20 million, whichever is larger — no one really wants to be caught non-compliant. So that’s why companies are rushing and, in the case of Instapaper, literally shutting down.
Instapaper happens to be owned by Pinterest as of 2016, which does add a bit of a wrinkle to the situation as it’s not entirely clear what type of data on users’ reading habits or any other behaviors Pinterest may have gleaned from its subsidiary. When questioned by Williams on Twitter about the subject, Brian Donohue, a product engineering manager at Pinterest, said, “I can’t comment on specifics other than to say that I’m actively working on resolving it.”
Needless to say, Instapaper users in the EU should be prepared to lose access to their archive starting tomorrow. It may perhaps be a good time to switch over to Pocket.