I've been using Facebook for a couple of years now. I've had a substantial amount of fun with it. I've reconnected with people I'd lost touch with, grown closer to others, and followed events in the lives of family and friends that otherwise I wouldn't know about.
Despite that — and despite the fact that I haven't found a good alternative to Facebook — I'm quitting fairly soon. Here's why.
The bottom line is this: staying on Facebook requires either (1) that I abandon the notion that I have any control over who sees, and profits from the use of, my data, or (2) that I engage in an increasingly tedious and difficult struggle to figure out, and exercise, the diminishing amount of control that Facebook is willing to give me over the privacy of my data.
Facebook's steady assault on privacy norms does not appear solely motivated by profit motive. It's not just that they want to sell access to you, and your data, to advertisers and data miners to make a buck. No, Facebook's leaders have both philosophical and practical views about privacy that may be frankly inconsistent with your wishes:
"People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.
"We view it as our role in the system to constantly be innovating and be updating what our system is to reflect what the current social norms are."
In fact, they may have a pronounced and long-term disdain for the very concept of privacy.
Am I smart enough to figure out how to navigate Facebook's privacy settings, even in their current much more complicated state, and maximize the privacy Facebook is willing to give my profile and updates? Sure. But increasingly doing so feels like a job, or like an unpleasant but mandatory household task like balancing the checkbook. More than that, it feels like a job that's also contest with Facebook and its designers, in which they — motivated by a desire to make money off of my data, and by a futurist anti-privacy philosophical agenda — seek to slip changes past me, outwit me, and wear me down. Could I keep track of the steady steam of privacy setting changes and carefully analyze each one? Yes. But I'm sick of doing so.
It reminds me of the MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, to the non-geeks among you — like World of Warcraft) called "Star Wars Galaxies" that I played about six years ago. In that game, your Star-Wars-universe avatar could build stuff like weapons and armor and tools, but to do so had to harvest resources like minerals. You could build machines to harvest those resources. But you had to visit all your machines to maintain them, or they would break. So every day I'd be logging on to the game and instead of exploring and shooting stormtroopers and stuff, I'd be running around for a real-time hour maintaining my resource harvesting machines. Suddenly I realized this felt like a job, not like a game, so I quit. (I understand many people come to a similar realization about Farmville on Facebook.)
Facebook is making me feel the same — like it's a constant chore just to keep ahead of them.
I think this is a feature, not a bug. It's profitable for Facebook, the same way that it's profitable for companies to make it difficult and annoying and time-consuming to submit rebate requests, such that many people never bother. I think that Facebook is deliberately making it more complicated and time-consuming to protect your privacy, in the hopes that you won't invest the time and will just accept the default lack of privacy, so that they can continue to profit from selling access to your information. Their explanations for the increasingly prolix nature of privacy settings are lame:
Q: I love Facebook, but I am increasingly frustrated by the convoluted nature of the privacy settings. It’s clearly within Facebook’s ability to make the privacy settings clear and easy to use — why hasn’t this been a focus? — Ben, Chicago
A: Unfortunately, there are two opposing forces here — simplicity and granularity. By definition, if you make content sharing simpler, you lose granularity and vice versa. To date, we’ve been criticized for making things too complicated when we provide granular controls and for not providing enough control when we make things simple. We do our best to balance these interests but recognize we can do even better and we will.
This, of course, is nonsense. Facebook can balance "simplicity and granularity" by having both a convoluted privacy control panel and a single, simple button you can push to set all of those complicated settings at once to maximum privacy. That would be trivially easy to program; you need look no further than your browser to see a system that offers both simple and complex control schemes simultaneously. But Facebook will likely never program it, because they don't want it to be easy to protect your privacy. That would cost them money, and offend their philosophy.
I'm sick of making the effort. I'm offended at the idea that I need to make the effort. I could simply scrub my Facebook page and all my postings until they offer only what I'm willing to offer up to the entire world (including Facebook's data miners and advertising clients), but that seems to defeat the purpose of Facebook. Plus, apparently it's an open question whether scrubbing the data would prevent Facebook from continuing to use and sell it.
So I've decided to join the exodus from Facebook. It's just a question of when. I'll be researching on the right way to do it, and the most effective way to actually delete my data so Facebook can't mine and sell it, and report back.
I'll miss using Facebook. I'll probably lose touch with old friends. But I won't miss the increasingly ubiquitous feeling that I've fallen behind on the Sisyphean task of protecting myself from Facebook.
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