I joined Facebook several years ago because I was getting fed up with Myspace. I wanted a place to post a few interesting things—quotes, photos, and the like—and I wanted it to be on a social network that didn’t look so haphazardly put together. I hated how poor code and ridiculous profile themes continuously crashed my browser. I hated how long it took Myspace pages to load. I hated how public it all appeared to be: I just wanted to share information with friends and know exactly how public that information became.
One of the things I really liked about Facebook was that it was inherently more private. At the time, only those with an email address provided by a university could join. It was more exclusive, and it fostered a fairly widespread assumption that Facebook meant connecting with people you actually knew in real life. It wasn’t Myspace: you didn’t just request to be a friend with someone because you liked their profile picture or thought their quotes were hilarious. If someone wasn’t a friend, they couldn’t see your stuff.
This company’s behavior proves them to be completely irresponsible with their users’ data, and it’s not a mistake. It’s a major character flaw for the whole organization. They tried Beacon, their first siege against users’ privacy. More recently they’ve added Instant Personalization, another major privacy coup. Whereas Beacon would post to Facebook your activities on other websites (did you hear the unfortunate tale of the boyfriend who bought an engagement ring on Overstock, only to find it published to his friends’ News Feeds?), Instant Personalization sends your Facebook information to third-party sites without your consent. That’s right: another breach of information privacy from which Facebook makes it hard to opt-out.
Every time Facebook has made a major change in the way it uses your information, it has done so with a total lack of transparency and in a way that defaults to the most public settings available. The problem isn’t that they’ve unwittingly released users’ information; clearly their network isn’t as secure as even they think it is. But as the EFF notes, this pattern of behavior just proves Facebook doesn’t care about your privacy in the slightest and doesn’t feel bound at all to keep its promises:
Viewed together, the successive policies tell a clear story. Facebook originally earned its core base of users by offering them simple and powerful controls over their personal information. As Facebook grew larger and became more important, it could have chosen to maintain or improve those controls. Instead, it’s slowly but surely helped itself — and its advertising and business partners — to more and more of its users’ information, while limiting the users’ options to control their own information.
They can apologize all they want, but those of us who uploaded and shared things over the years under the impression that Facebook would remain true to their promises have been burned. This is a classic bait-and-switch: they promised us that we’d have ultimate control of our information, and once we took them up on their offer and they possessed our data, they changed the rules of the game. That’s completely unethical.
Will this public outcry mean the end of Facebook? Probably not. Most people won’t switch because there’s not a more attractive alternative. Most users aren’t thinking about the possibility that every single thing they post to Facebook might affect a future relationship, a job interview, a lawsuit, ability to get insurance coverage, etc. Most people, sadly, don’t care about their own privacy.
But I do. I never wanted my Facebook profile to be this public. Twitter is different. Twitter is an inherently public messaging network with a single, refreshingly simple option for privacy– Protect my tweets: Only let people whom I approve follow my tweets.
At this point, it’s time to delete my account, and that means my public Facebook page (which I set up for the public stuff) goes out the window with it. I can’t support a company that treats its users like this, and I can’t recommend or encourage anyone else to be part of the social network either. I’ll be advertising this all over Facebook for the next week, then my profile will go black. I highly recommend you join me. Don’t just deactivate your account; they’ll retain all your information. Delete it.
(If you do want to delete your account, you cannot try to log in for the following 14 days or Facebook will reactivate your account. After the 14 day delay, the account is permanently deleted along with, so they say, all of your information.)
If something else comes along to replace it, like Diaspora, then great. If not, maybe I’ll enjoy seeing all of you in the real world.
Update: In case you hadn’t heard, recent IMs uncovered from the early days of Facebook reveal Zuckerberg calling us all “dumb f***s” for just handing over our info to him. Does this sound like the kind of guy you’d trust your information with? And trust to collude with other websites to automatically share your web activity (buying gifts, renting cars, making travel plans that reveal you won’t be home)? This isn’t the behavior of someone who believes “very much in transparency and the vision of an open society.” If that campaign rhetoric were remotely true, he wouldn’t have promised his users privacy and then changed the rules of the game many, many times in the last 5 years.
Learn from Facebook’s own history, friends. The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result. Don’t be insane.