Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Quitting Facebook is not torture, but common sense

Back in January of 2010 I wrote this post about how it took torture to get me on Facebook. I'd never been interested in social networking sites, but after some wonderful people set up a Coalition for Clarity Facebook page about the time I had started the C4C blog (and, remember, it's a good thing that blog isn't updated more often, because no news about torture is good news...right?) I joined FB so I could add news items on occasion to the blog.

Recently, one of the C4C Facebook page's admins remarked that the page was scheduled to be archived. Neither of us has the slightest idea of what that means or what, if anything, to do about it. I suppose that if torture becomes a burning political issue in another year or so, the page might be resurrected, but for now, I think it's gone rather quiet.

So my main reason for joining Facebook in the first place has evaporated, and although I've enjoyed the occasional contact with friends and family there, the time has come for me to deactivate my account.

Why? Well, here's one reason:

Facebook has admitted that it has been watching the web pages its members visit – even when they have logged out.

In its latest privacy blunder, the social networking site was forced to confirm that it has been constantly tracking its 750million users, even when they are using other sites.

The social networking giant says the huge privacy breach was simply a mistake - that software automatically downloaded to users' computers when they logged in to Facebook 'inadvertently' sent information to the company, whether or not they were logged in at the time.

Most would assume that Facebook stops monitoring them after they leave its site, but technology bloggers discovered this was not the case.

In fact, data has been regularly sent back to the social network’s servers – data that could be worth billions when creating 'targeted' advertising based on the sites users visit.

So, you click over to Facebook, and check out what's happening. Then you go read news sites or other web pages, and since you didn't actually log out of Facebook (and who ever does? It's a pain to remember your super-secure, tough, impossible-to-crack--you hope--password every time you want to reenter the site), Facebook was tracking you and collecting information that is worth a fortune.

And--think about this for a second--the sort of information they were gathering about you is the sort of information that, were you to be accused of a crime, a police officer would have to get a court order to obtain; but because you voluntarily used Facebook you were just handing over all of it gratis and without any reservation of your rights.

I find that troubling.

Then, of course, there have been recent changes that have made the site more cluttered, more difficult to navigate and read, and harder for the user--because, as many people point out, the user isn't really the customer; it's all the people who mine the data about you who are Facebook's real customers. So making the site user-friendly is never going to be a primary goal, unless Facebook messes things up so badly that users quit in droves (and they make it difficult to quit completely--you have to submit a request if you want your account permanently deleted). And there are more changes looming on the horizon which may impact privacy:
Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said its new features create "frictionless sharing."

But they are causing friction with some users and consumer groups.

Facebook unveiled last week services that make it easier for its 800 million users to share more information about themselves and their lives online. The social networking service showed off a dramatic redesign of users' profiles, a timeline that charts in chronological order all the information users have shared in the past. Facebook also said that third-party applications would — with users' consent — automatically share every action users take, such as the songs they listen to or the videos they watch.

Privacy watchdogs are urging the Federal Trade Commission to look into the new features that they say push users to share more than they may feel comfortable sharing. [...]

Privacy watchdogs aren't the only ones who say Facebook is stripping away its users' privacy. Writer Ben Barr of technology blog Mashable in a blog post said, "We're at the point of no return."
"Facebook's passive sharing will change how we live our lives. More and more, the things we do in real life will end up as Facebook posts," Parr wrote. "And while we may be consoled by the fact that most of this stuff is being posted just to our friends, it only takes one friend to share that information with his or her friends to start a viral chain."
Viral chain--or something like this:
Oops. Our story so far: A mom posting on Facebook about the messy condition of her sons’ bedrooms unwittingly tipped athletic authorities that they didn’t live full time in the district, resulting in their high school football team, Perry County (Linden, Tenn.), forfeiting three games. The Vikings, ranked third in division Class 1A, had been 5-0 overall, 2-0 in league.
I'm not saying the family shouldn't have been following the rules about school districts--they should have been. But this is still troubling, not to mention horrible for the boys involved.

There are so many ways that "passive sharing" of posters' information could end very, very badly; a viral chain is only one of a whole host of bad possibilities. I can only imagine how many improper uses of what ought to be private information could come up--but, again, as happy social networking users (or company owners) point out regularly, the information you post on Facebook is not really a relatively private conversation between friends and family; it is a wealth of data for which advertisers are ready and willing to pay.

With all of that, with my growing discomfort with the site, and with my general dislike of the raiding of privacy in the name of advertising and marketing, I've decided to go ahead and deactivate my Facebook account later this evening (and I'll probably go back and request a permanent deletion soon after). I'm just not comfortable with the idea that things I don't choose to share with a public audience might be shared anyway, and I highly dislike the notion of a corporation spying on my Internet usage (for the record, I'm also uncomfortable with the government doing the same). Frankly, I waste enough time on the Internet without having to waste it at a place where my interactions are going to end up being sold to the highest bidder. And since I never really used it all that much anyway, quitting Facebook is, for me, just common sense.


love the girls said...

I simply assume everything I do online will end up in a thousand different archives.

Which is to everyone's advantage since the best way to not be noticed is in a crowd, including a large crowd of gathered information.

I never write anything I wouldn't want repeated back to me where I would not want to hear or see it.

love the girls said...

Adding on, the real problem isn't places like facebook, but email, and telephone calls and even using our computers which can be, and are, searched. We no longer have the privacy of hand written correspondence and similar.

Jacque said...

I dumped my Facebook last year at Lent. I mainly signed up because my family is so far away. I felt like a voyer. I hated it.
Never again.

Kimberly Margosein said...

IIRC Love the Girls, are you aware most newer phones have GPS in them?

Siarlys Jenkins said...

My phone has no GPS. I have never tried Facebook. I find email perfectly good for communicating with people I really want to be communicating with.

Behind all this invasion of privacy by Facebook itself, is the fact that all these "free" services that somehow support a bevy of new millionaires (or is it a "pride"?) bring in revenue by selling the ability of the service to provide a more finely tuned product to advertisers. Read any long in-depth article on the company, or its founder.

Our alternatives are:

1) Take the free service and accept the consequences, as we all did with broadcast TV while we moaned and groaned about having to put up with commercials,

2) Pay for a service that doesn't rely on advertising or otherwise selling our presence (likely to be about as popular as NPR and pay TV), or

3) Decide, as many of us have, that we really don't need Facebook at all.

The catch may be this. As more and more institutions sign on to Facebook, as more and more functions are "available" via Facebook, we may reach the point where living in the world, without Facebook, becomes as difficult as trying to open a savings account, without a credit card, or a checking account, without a phone number.

There oughta be a law agin it.

L. said...

The only reason I find this ironic is that you have a public blog, on which you share some very personal information. It's open to everyone with a browser, and Google's relevance algorithm isn't probably the only entity tracking it....Who knows where what you post here is going to end up, and in what form? Who knows how this information is going to be used?

Anonymous said...

Good for you. I gave up FB in disgust. It all just seems so fake and low quality. I got sick of all the fake people trying to make an image for themselves, trying to be witty, just dying for attention. I also know a few people who ruined their marriages on FB. I guess it's fine for some folks who use it with the full knowledge that it's all essentially public information.

Same reason why I don't have Twitter. I don't need to shoot random tweets myself, and I dont want to read anyone else's. I guess I'm a blog/email gal.

Ann Marie

Anonymous said...

Re the comment regarding blogs....

FB is completely different IMO. Blog writers are writing knowing full well their stuff is going to be read, in fact, hoping it is read! Blog writers also generally put a bit of thought into a blog post. FB is generally just a big running pile of mundane goo, written for the writer more than the audience. Twitter is even lower quality than FB IMO.

Ann Marie

L. said...

That's funny, Ann Marie, and totally backwards from my experience. My blog is "just a big running pile of midune goo, written for the writer more than the audience" (my own little corner in which to rant), while FB is a way to help me keep peripherally in touch with the day-to-day lives of my far-away friends and family (since I live overseas). I like hearing about my cousin's kids' school plays, what my friends had for dinner/what they're reading, etc.

Not all blog writers hope their stuff is going to be read. Though people are welcome to read my blog, I don't care if anyone does or not.

And I think the point Red is making isn't about the quality of the content, or the intent of the person writing the FB/blog content. What's at issue is HOW that content is used, and by whom. I am surprised that someone who blogs so publicly is worried about FB privacy.

Barbara C. said...

I understand the risks of Facebook, and I am willing to continue taking them at the moment.

To be honest, I am pretty isolated at home. We have one vehicle and I have four children under 8. We also moved away from "home" right after our oldest was born.

Facebook allows me to keep up with several old friends, coworkers, classmates, and family members. I get to share their joys when a new baby is born (like when my best friend from childhood just became a daddy) and their sorrows when they lose a loved one. It offers a platform for discussions. And my family members back home can see pictures of my kids and hear snippets of our lives.

And at the moment I am playing Scrabble games with my best friend in Kentucky, a grade school friend in Georgia, a college buddy in Virginia, my daughter's former teeball coach in my current town, and my husband.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

A blog is like posting on a bulletin board downtown, or the doors of a well known church.

Facebook is like inviting the whole world into your living room.

I don't know Erin's address, what her house looks like, I only have access to one photo of her and one cat, I don't know what she does all day long or where she is, I only know what she writes for public discussion. I have no idea who her friends are, where she likes to eat, what kind of car she drives...

Facebook could be all right, on a limited basis, for people who really have a specific use for it, like Barbara C. But it wouldn't pay without pushing the notion that "everyone" should be on it.

Red Cardigan said...

L., I agree with Ann Marie and Siarlys on this. If I were, instead of a blogger, a paid syndicated columnist writing about the Church, politics, culture, etc. (any takers?), I'd be putting just as much information out there (since most such columns are web-published as well as print-published these days).

And if someone wanted to take the time and effort to upload all of my posts into data-mining software and look for the rare occasions when I might have, say, mentioned a product name or service (without necessarily checking the context to see if I was being humorous, sarcastic, angry about the product/service, etc.) they could. But in the end it doesn't give them half the information that clicking a dozen "like" buttons on Facebook does, let alone buying and playing FB games, uploading dozens of personal photos (why, is that a Kroger (tm) brand cake in that birthday photo, or a Walmart (tm) brand cake?), and scrutinizing posts which mention shopping habits, buying decisions, entertainment choices, and on and on--all in compact, easy to read formats.

That said, I admit that my concerns are my own, which is why it makes sense for *me* to quit Facebook. I've lived in isolated situations like Barbara C. does, and having the ability to interact with adults during the day is a sanity-saver.

L. said...

Well, anyone who wants to quit should quit -- I'm just saying that even though it's different from FB, a blog is still making public some of the private (even more public than FB, in fact) and who knows who is trolling it. A blog invites the whole world into a corner of one's personal space, and who knows how the world is using it.

There is no need to take "time and effort to upload all of my posts into data-mining software" -- there are probably autobots going through it even as I type this.

I'm willing to take these risks so I blog, anyway, and I take similar risks using FB, where I'm careful what I say/link to.

Anonymous said...

I still think that blogs are totally different. I'm noticing a lot of bloggers phoning it in by using fb or twitter, and as soon as they do that I don't follow them anymore. I would rather read one well- thought out blog post per month from my favorite writers, than be subjected to a constant running stream of this and that. Just as I would rather have one nice email or phone call from a friend versus 'following' or 'friending' them.

On the privacy front, the new changes to fb seem awful.

Ann Marie