Today I quit Facebook. I’ve been mulling over it for quite some time now and, in a moment of impulsiveness, I clicked the delete button.
It was time to stop complaining and put my money where my mouth is (was?). I’d actively withdrawn from it anyway, so why not take the final step and leave?
Of course my account won’t actually be deleted for another fortnight, that’s just how FB rolls. They’re worried that I might change my mind in that time so have, very thoughtfully, decided need a bit of a cooling off period.
So why did I do it?
We all know Facebook are essentially a company that trades in a very valuable commodity – highly targeted marketing. Facebook know a lot about you and sell that information to anyone that wants it. Like any of these services, that’s the trade off. You get access to the world largest social media service with a user-base of around 800 million and in return Facebook sells information about you to advertisers. (So why do I keep getting weight loss ads served to my Facebook page?)
So the question is: do I feel that is a fair trade. Is it worth commodifying my personal information so that I can keep up to date with what my friends just ate for dinner? Truthfully, it is up to a point, and up until today I’ve been happy to pay that price. I’m living in London at the moment and the vast majority of the people I know and love are living in Melbourne so I want to see pictures of them and their kids.
I’m also someone that likes to think of themselves as an activist. Whist I’m not as active as I used to be, Facebook is a really handy tool for an activist. When I put together martinfergusonisaratbastard.com it got about 300 hits in the first day – most of which came from Facebook. So I’m reluctant to let that go.
Finally, as far as my reluctance to leave Facebook goes, I’m a web developer. Facebook is central to the online world so I feel like I should do my best to keep up with what is happening on Facebook, at lease from a technological perspective.
So, with all these good reasons to stay on Facebook, why would I leave?
Ownership, commodification and privacy, to name three. Facebook has never really been satisfactory in any of these areas and I’ve finally had enough.
I’ve always disliked iPhoto and iTunes. Their default status (and I know you can turn this off) has the program managing your files. That bothers me. They are my files and I’ll do with them as I please thank you very much. My first MP3 player was a 40 Gig iAudio that was essentially just a hard drive. It would simply play every song in the folder you navigated to. It had a horrible interface and was quite clunky but I loved it. It played every format under the sun (critically, including ogg) and I could move files on and off it as I pleased without a program or anything like that. They were my files, why wouldn’t I be able to?
The same can be said for Facebook. I can’t just take my data and go home. I can’t just get a copy of every photo and video I’ve uploaded and do with it as I please.
In contrast, I’m heavily integrated with Google. They aren’t perfect either but at lease with Google I can take my data and go elsewhere whenever I wish. Ironically, it will be when Google take this capacity away from me that I’ll feel the need to leave.
There are also intellectual property issues here that are probably beyond the preview of this post. But who owns the copyright over a photo that I upload to Facebook or a status update? What can the images I’ve uploaded be used for? I don’t have control over that and, fundamentally, I should.
All of this combined with Facebook’s persistant changing of the rules and defaulting everything to public has eroded my faith.
Of course Google commodifies my personal information as well, but with Facebook it seems far more intrusive. The information is less anonymised, more readily available for sale and just seems more insidious than other services. Surely this will only get worse with it multi-billion dollar Initial Public Offering
I don’t think it is necessarily problematic to sell things in a targeted manner to users of a service if they have opted in. It’s something I would consider exploiting for Sommelier.net.au. But Facebook take this too far. The information that can be bought by advertisers is far more detailed than I am comfortable with a corporation having.
Which ties into my final point.
Facebook knows a lot about you. A lot. A terrifying amount. More than I am happy for any one person, let alone corporation, to know.
I’m a strongly libertarian sort of person. Civil liberties are central to everything I believe in and key to protecting one’s rights is privacy.
Facebook knows too much about me already and has a tendency to broadcast that information whenever it can. It’s key to their business model.
In addition, I don’t have enough trust in a corporation like Facebook to protect my privacy. It isn’t in their interest to do so. I think it’s safe to say that there isn’t a government department in the world that knows as much about me as Facebook and they are far less accountable. Hell, the FBI have admitted to being able to make staffing reductions due to the amount of information they can now get just by looking someone up on Facebook.
Moreover, Facebook track you by stealth when you’re away from the site. Every ‘Like’ button on a website is another little spy for Facebook. And Facebook aren’t playing fairly in this realm. You simply shouldn’t be able to track someone once they have left that site. But Facebook do it incessantly, even once you’ve logged out. Hell, they keep ‘shadow’ profiles of people that don’t have Facebook accounts. To quote George HW Bush, “this aggression will not stand.”
As part of my discontent with Facebook’s surveillance techniques, I will also be removing ‘Like’ Buttons from any website I run. Especially Your Voice in House so people can use the service without a fear that they will be tracked by a corporation. It’s only ego-metrics anyway.
So that’s it. I’m sick of being sold, I’m sick of being spied on and I’m sick of not being able to control my own data. I cannot tolerate this social compact any longer. I quit. I’ll miss knowing what my friends are up, but they’ve all got my email address, they all know my blog and they are all welcome to follow me on Twitter. Hell, Google me if you need.
So who knows. Maybe I’ll utilise that 14 day window and reactivate my account. Maybe I create a new account with a nom de plume so i can continue to spy on
ex-girlfriends friend’s children as they grow. But for now at least, I’m feeling quite liberated.