Because YOU demanded it! All the hackle-raising reasons why I decided that I had had enough of Facebook and committed social network suicide on May 31st. While my statement may not have made waves, it was an important moment for me. Here’s the breakdown:
REASONS WHY I QUIT FACEBOOK
- Corporate Ideology
- Flagrant disregard for users’ privacy concerns. This is pretty much the biggest and most obvious concern of all. What, you haven’t heard about Facebook’s privacy shenanigans? Just Google (or Bing, or Yahoo) “Facebook privacy” and you’ll find out all about it. There’s not much need for me to reiterate it all, so I’ll just quickly sum up my perspective: When I joined (my college).thefacebook.com, I was led to believe that my information would never be made available to the general public without my express, specific consent. That’s a good deal different than Facebook’s recent attitude, which has been “you consent to any and all changes we make by continuing to use the service.” In fact, that’s the crux of why I quit! I have only one way to make my voice heard, and it’s by … not making my voice heard on Facebook.
- A shift in focus from users to advertisers. This one is the big reason behind the privacy rollbacks. Facebook is preparing to go public, and if they are to succeed as a publicly-traded company, they have to monetize the heck out of their network. How do they do this? By selling everything we put on the site. For some people (especially those who joined after the site opened to the general public) this is not such a betrayal, but for legacy users it’s a bit of a shock. Facebook’s value to users was (and to an extent still is) based on the fact that the information they shared would only be seen by people they wanted to see it. Now that the company cares more about leveraging its assets (which are the users and their user-generated content) they are being shockingly blunt about seeing users as a commodity to be manipulated instead of customers to be treated with respect.
- Co-opting of other websites’ features (ConnectU, Myspace, Flickr, Twitter, Foursquare). While the facts are a bit hazy regarding Mark Zuckerberg’s alleged sabotage of ConnectU.com, there is no denying that Facebook has a history of co-opting the best features of its competitors (Myspace’s apps, Flickr’s photo sharing and tagging, Twitter’s news feed and status updates, and now Foursquare’s location-based check-in services.) More than that, they’ve been completely blatant in their shameless appropriation of innovation without once acknowledging that they didn’t come up with these ideas themselves. It’s nothing new for a major corporation, but neither are countless other unethical business practices. It also has the unintended consequence of changing the use-cases of the network, to the point that people don’t really use Facebook for what its original intent was anymore.
- Acting as a platform for shady third-party app companies (Zynga, Offerpal). If you follow TechCrunch, you know all about the back-alley deals conducted by Offerpal with tacit approval from Zynga and Facebook. It’s true that the backlash against these borderline-illegal tactics (which cheated not only hapless users, but partner companies like Netflix out of millions of dollars) forced Facebook to take a stand against Zynga and Offerpal, but their guard has relaxed considerably since the big confrontation and the scams are creeping back in again. Essentially, the Facebook app platform is a haven for unscrupulous web-marketers & social engineers and a chance to circumvent all of the internet safety training that users received in the web1.0 days.
- Software Concerns
- Some things cannot be made private AT ALL. I ran into this problem when I was systematically reducing my account down to the bare bones. Things like membership to pages and certain basic information cannot be hidden, and certain privacy settings on other items can only be made as restrictive as “friends only.” This is with the over 150 different privacy controls, many of which were scattered all over Facebook’s menus. While the addition of privacy presets does help, it doesn’t change this important fact.
- There is no way to pre-empt things like other users tagging you in items. This is a big problem for anyone who likes to go to parties but wants to get/keep a job. How do you stop everyone at the party from taking that picture of you with the funnel and tagging you in it so that your boss can see? You can’t keep it from happening, you can only remove the tag once it’s happened. By then, it may be too late.
- Frequent security bugs, hacks and exploits. According to security experts, Facebook is laughably insecure. The fact that it has its own in-site antivirus measures still does not prevent all manner of hacks and exploits from affecting people’s accounts (including the most recent scams involving decoy “like” buttons on websites.) As if that’s not bad enough, sometimes the Facebook staff will make private information publicly available accidentally, like when you could type in a person’s Facebook profile URL and see everything that was open on their homescreen, including real-time chat messages (normally private.) It just goes to show that privacy settings are a rubber crutch, and anything you put on Facebook has the potential to be seen by everyone you really don’t want it to be seen by.
- Inability to export data. A few months ago, my computer contracted a virus and I had to reimage it. In the process, I lost all of my pictures from 2008. “It’s okay,” I thought, “I’ll just pull them from my Facebook account!” Sadly, the versions on Facebook are pathetically small compared to the originals and there’s no way to export them to my computer without manually viewing each image and clicking “save image as.” The same goes for notes, which have to be copied and pasted into a word processor (copypasta and all.) Consider how easy every other social site, from Livejournal to Flickr to Twitter (if you know where to find it) makes exporting files fast and easy. Heck, Google has an entire independent division of its organization called the Data Liberation Front specifically devoted to making sure users can get their data out of the cloud with minimal difficulty! Facebook, by contrast, is doing everything in its power to block social networking backup services like Backupify from being able to pull data from accounts and store it in the cloud. It’s greedy, and I don’t care for this attitude of “you gave it to me to hold on to, but you can’t have it back when you need it.”
- Private messages are read by Facebook staff, and kept on their servers FOREVER. What else is there to say? Again, what you thought was private is not private at all, even though it’s in the name (and even though both you and the recipient deleted them.) I hate that the phone companies do this with text messages and voicemails, too, while we’re on the subject. Think of the blackmail the telco lobby will have against the next generation when they have all their sexts and can leak them to the press!
- The “Open Graph” and Its Implementation
- The MERE PRESENCE of the “like” button on webpages allows Facebook and the website to share information about you. I just heard about this one on Buzz Out Loud. Now that every major website has embraced the “like” button, one of the neat “features” of this partnership is that any visitors who are signed on to Facebook at the time of visit, whether or not they click the “like button”, have their Facebook data exposed to the website and their browsing data exposed to Facebook. Beware any porn site that features a “like” button, my friends…
- The conversion of privacy-controllable listed interests into public page memberships. This really set me off. Another example of a spontaneous, unsolicited rollback of user privacy for the sake of monetization. Once this took effect, I had to manually go and delete all of the pages I had suddenly subscribed to in order to restore my previously-held level of privacy (but I lost the ability to display my interests to the people within my privacy circle!) This is another feature they discontinued with the new privacy revision, and I’m glad they did (but not glad enough to return.)
- Defaulting users into “Instant Personalization”. And we’re right back to the “like” button, combined with the app-backdoor. Unless you turned this feature off when it was introduced, you’d have to visit every participating website and manually block it from accessing your Facebook data, and also make sure the block is in effect on your Facebook account. What, we weren’t busy enough blocking a bajillion applications, now you make us opt out of the internet one site at a time?!!!! ARGH!
- Defaulting users into location-based information. Location-based social networking terrifies me, and I hope it scares you too. It goes back to that argument of “people don’t care about privacy anymore, they’re willing to trade it for convenience.” To which I say: People don’t understand what they’re giving up, and they have absolutely no idea how many people could do them harm with this sensitive information. Thankfully, women tend to be a little more hesitant to turn on location-based features than men (though I wish the reason for their justified fears didn’t exist at all.) Using the social graph, people can triangulate where you live (and where you happen to be, and where you’re likely to be at a given time) and stalk you against your will – or worse. Even more frightening, shady characters can use location-based services to monitor when one woman is alone at a poorly-lit bus stop in a rough neighborhood … To paraphrase Ben Franklin, “those who would trade a little safety for a little convenience will lose both, and deserve neither.”
- The “Mom” Factor
- The fact that all kinds of people are on Facebook, combined with the Network Effect’s peer pressure, means that you must befriend your mom and boss or risk social awkwardness. This one would be true of any social network Facebook’s size, but it’s nonetheless one of my reasons for quitting. The social pressure of having to befriend (“friend is not a verb, we already have a word for that) a family member or co-worker instantly causes Facebook’s user value to decline. Now, in order to enjoy the same freedom of expression held previously (asssuming you set your profile to “friends only,”) a user must create two or more separate tiers of friends and control access settings within them. While I still had a profile, I had a “safe list” and a “block list”, and all of my data was posted to one and blocked from the other. But every time I made a new friend (or the nature of a friendship changed) I’d have to manipulate both lists to keep them up-to-date! It became a headache, and I don’t miss it.
- The potential for arbitrary discrimination in hiring and firing employees in every industry. Just when you thought the hiring process was as unfair as it could get, along comes Facebook and its pictures of you wearing a “spitters are quitters” T-shirt and funneling Natty Ice to ruin your shot at that insurance sales job. Worse still, there’s no good reason reason why someone who was a party animal in college would be unfit for a job, at least based on that fact alone! Obviously this makes sense for any job that requires you to be a public figure (if your boss can find it, others can too) but it’s completely irrelevant for most of the population. Yet, when a company wants to make a hard hiring decision easier (or justify firing someone they were waiting to get rid of) Facebook provides.
- General Annoyance
- Other people’s apps are annoying, and you cannot block feed announcements about them pre-emptively. This one is a minor pet peeve, so I saved it for last. I swear, some people will sign up for every stupid, annoying flash-based game offered by Zynga and its competitors. It clutters up the newsfeed, making it unpleasant to use. Thankfully, Twitter doesn’t have that problem to nearly such an extent.
Of course, Facebook does have its uses and can make life easier and more fun. To that end, I will now acknowledge the aspects of Facebook that I was sad to leave behind…
REASONS WHY I MISS FACEBOOK
- The Network Effect: Everyone else is doing it.
- Free, Unlimited (in number but not size) Photo Storage
- Event Invitations and Management
Yup, that’s it. I don’t regret my decision, and I hope that I’ve done a decent job explaining my reasons to you. If you eventually decide that it’s not for you, either, I’m sure I’ll catch you on something else. Currently I’m on:
Google Buzz (real name – RL friends only)
Twitter (real name – RL friends only)
Linkedin (real name – RL contacts only)
Picasa Web (real name – RL friends only)