Leaving Facebook: Actions speak louder than words

Update 01-July-2014 I hear from a lot of people that they have difficulty finding things on Facebook that are supposed to be there... posts from friends and family don't seem to be their feeds, and clicking around to find the post they want often yields poor results.

Every wonder why that is? Oh, yes, poor User Interface is a big part of it, to be sure. But there's more to the story, and now we know what it is. Facebook scientists have published a study telling about how they secretly manipulated the content people saw in their feeds to see if they could influence their emotions. The answer was "yes". (Article at AVClub)

Do you think that it is okay to use people as social network guinea pigs without their knowledge? Do you think it's okay to change, remove, delay, or re-classify messages between family members, friends, and news sources to serve your own purposes? Facebook thinks it's okay. Can you image what story they must be telling themselves about their users in order to make such things be okay in their minds?

So there's one reason why you can't always find what you expected to be in your Facebook feed... Facebook decides what you see and when you see it. If you're looking for good social networking and *actual* connections with your loved ones, you might want to re-evaluate if Facebook is the right choice for you.

Update 24-JUN-2014 Facebook announces that it will begin tapping into your web browsing and Internet data outside of Facebook to serve ads.
Holy crap, they are at it again. More of the same habits of their past, but now at much bigger scale. Now Facebook has decided that you don't need to be a member or have a Facebook profile to be worthy of their tracking and building a profile of your data, web destinations, postings, comments, video viewing history, and more. Oh, yeah, and if you are a Facebook user, your data marked "private" is not private anymore... again... tiny change [sic].

Ask yourself, "is this hidden layer of Facebook good social hygiene?" I can tell you as a computer professional that this is very poor data hygiene, and it indicates they have zero respect for you as a person.

Do you really want to be in daily use-and-tracking with a company that has already run afoul of the FTC, the US Senate (see below for links), and more than one investigation? Would you do business with such a company if you were paying them to watch your children, manage your banking, do your shopping, buy your insurance, or manage your mortgage? They have all that data on you, but the way, and they sell it as many times as they can to whoever wants it. Whoever wants it. Can you begin to see how the gray areas start to get sticky?

I'm recommending to my family and friends to get off Facebook and find a better company to mesh your life with. I'd be happy to help you choose new ways to keep up with family and friends, if you want help there. It's the 21st century: in this day and age, you either manage your data, or your data manages you. There are far better alternatives than Facebook out there. Go use them.

Update 06-FEB-2014 WIRED U.K. ran an article this month that tracks the same timeline, security breaches, and blatant abuse of users' information that I've cited in my updates here.

Update 29-NOV-2013 Wow, the ongoing security holes and snafu's are just unbelievable. A company with billions of dollars in cash and a supposedly "native net" competency is repeatedly showing an astonishing number of continuous security issues. Here's another one: a simple way to see anyone's entire friend list, even if marked private. I can't think of any other domain in which consumers would allow such abuse. Incredible that they just keep going on with it.

Update 10-OCT-2013 Well, as a long-time technologist, I can see the end of Facebook has begun. The attitude, the business philosophy, the ignored feedback, the continuous security breeches, and now taking direct actions to lock out innovations from others and disable power users. Remember MySpace? Friendster? Tribe? It takes more than servers and ad programs to keep a social network thriving, and Facebook has the hubris to not only ignore the fact they have missed the boat to the second decade of the 21st century, I think they believe they are the boat to the second decade of the 21st century. So grab some popcorn and watch the decline of the biggest social networking system the world has ever seen.

UPDATE 24-JUN-2013 - Millions exposed by Facebook data glitch reports the BBC. And I'm not reporting all of the mass-media reported data blunders here; only about 15% of them. I wonder how many data breeches that "no evidence the data exposed was being exploited for malicious ends," as Facebook says, weren't reported in major media?

UPDATE 06-MAR-2013 Aaaaaaaand they do it again. More changes in the Facebook privacy policy, more releases of data users thought (and were told) was private, and more cash for Facebook. Well, at least Facebook users will learn distinctions around trust. I predict that Facebook will be in the history books in 2060 as the #1 reason new laws, expectations, and standards around trust and visible fulfillment of agreements changed in the early 21st century. Unfortunately, I'm not predicting that those standards are going down; I'm predicting that Facebook users are going to end up learning the hard way why trust and data privacy are important. Not sure how that will happen, but human nature and this crazy, unending pattern of Facebook continuously abusing its users makes it inevitable. Even sixty billion dollars has a limit of how much scoot-around, dodge-the-issue, and forced-perceived good will it can buy. There's more than one movie in the Facebook story, and the next one will be a doozy.

UPDATE 25-Feb-2013 Author and teacher Douglas Rushkoff has joined me in quitting Facebook, and for many of the same reasons, but mostly the big one: repetitive broken trust on numerous fronts. He notes how Facebook forces him to break trust with his friends and followers by liking things for him that he did not like, adding his picture, name, or link to products and pages that he did not endorse, like, or visit, and not sending/showing his updates to all of his friends and followers (they are requesting payment to show his updates to everyone). Seems like a business plan off-the-rails. This CNN article summarizes Rushkoff's interview on turning off his Facebook page. Rushkoff is a noted technologist and human systems guy, he knows of what he speaks. "It's just one website, and it comes with a price."

UPDATE 07-Dec-2011 Be sure to check out all the updates to this story... wow, it just won't stop. I like the approach one blogger took: he used one of the easy security holes to view and copy a bunch of Mark Zuckerberg's private photos... at least, they were marked at the highest level of private in Facebook. He then uploaded them to a public pictures forum with the title, "It's time to fix those security flaws facebook..." Check out the news story from Daily Mail, or the article at Help Net Security. This ZDNet article on the subject has a nice set of links at the bottom to more articles about other Facebook security gaffs and issues.

UPDATE 01-Dec-2011 It's more than 18 months later, and Facebook security and privacy is still in bad shape. A sampling is this ArsTechnica article explaining how you can friend anyone on Facebook within 24 hours and take over other people's Facebook accounts as well - although that "violates Facebook's policies."

UPDATE 11-May-2011 Yet another incident showing that Facebook has very little competency to manage data privacy. Reuters reports that Symantec engineers discovered Facebook was leaking keyed URLs to user's chats, private pictures and more.

UPDATE 18-Oct-2010 See the news item Facebook gets poked in latest privacy gaffe from The Register in the UK, reporting on the results of an investigation by the Wall Street Journal. It's becoming obvious that Facebook's philosophy and beliefs are such that this pattern is created over and over again. Every time they say, "Oops, we didn't mean to do that, we really do care about our user's privacy," and every time it is followed by more commercial agreements selling user data on larger scales and more breaches. This is just what they do, and it is quite revealing of their priorities. The only reason the whole thing isn't a huge supreme court case yet is because consumers just don't have any idea the harms that can be done to them (or will be done to them) with their personal data in the hands of those wishing to exploit it. Stay tuned; it's the next big thing our society will be learning about. ("Really? Seeing a service like RapLeaf doesn't cause you to pause and wonder what your "electronic dossier" contains, why people are willing to pay top dollar for it, and how it could be abused?")

UPDATE 11-Aug-2010: Facebook Export is a free tool that will download all your Facebook information - friends, pictures, wall notes, profile, etc. - to your own computer in XML format, which is widely supported. This makes it easy to backup your data, take back your data before you delete your account, or migrate your data somewhere else (destination must support FBE file format for direct import.) (Aug 11, 2010)

UPDATE 28-Jul-2010: Here's an example of a data privacy breach. This wasn't a sophisticated hack, and it is only one of dozens that have been reported (likely of hundreds that haven't been reported). Clearly, Facebook is not capable of keeping any kind of privacy promises, even their ever-shifting ones. Another example of how their social contract is just plain worthless. (July 29, 2010).

Hello friends and family!

You may have noticed that I deleted my Facebook account. I know, it was handy to have a bunch of friends and family updates in one place - although the poor user interface, the ads that somehow used pictures of my friends to catch my eye, and the crap-stream of notices from the games were all enough to make Facebook a net-zero proposition.

Still, net-zero isn't a loss. However, Facebook's latest bungle of privacy settings and wide expansion of selling user data to advertisers definitely kick them into the negative side of the balance.

While Zuckerburg and Facebook staff say they care about their users and that they are simply evolving user privacy options that protect the user base, their actions clearly show that Facebook's only true priority is making money with your data, in all kinds of creepy new ways.

One blunder in privacy changes - back in 2008 - I could consider a mistake. The second, bolder blunder six months ago was bad, but the user response and backlash was big enough to make Facebook backpedal a bit, and I had hoped they learned their lesson.

This third and latest privacy shred indicates that not only didn't they learn their lesson, they are more bent than ever on making money selling user data and, now, they are even okay with "passively fooling"* users into a false sense of safety and privacy while peddling more data to more third parties with less qualification and less control than ever.

It is the third strike, a severe renege of the social contract that Facebook has with users, and it is more than enough for me to leave.

Thus, I'm done with Facebook. The next cool thing will come along soon (remember the glory and downfall of MySpace? It all cycles pretty quickly in the digital world), and we'll all see each other on the new thing. That next cool thing will have learned from Facebook's mistakes, I'm sure (or else they won't get big).

Until then, you can catch me here on my blog, email, Twitter, and Google. The Facebook party is over, so until the next party, we'll see ya around the streets of the 'net!

Beyond the multiple lawsuits filed about this and now a possible Federal Trade Commission investigation and possible congressional action against Facebook, Here's a sampling of what people are saying around the net:

From TechCrunch:

From eWeek (warning: ad blitz site): 10 Things to Remember About Facebook Privacy and Security


And a good post and conversation about the squirmy details of social contract and the kinds of actions that would back-up Facebook's claim that they care about users and privacy is If Facebook were smart… by Jeff Jarvis. Thanks to Alan Rosenblith for Tweeting this link.

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*"Passively fooling" includes allowing people to believe that the original social contract (general understanding and expectations) is still in place, even though it isn't. Facebook is severely altering the deal, and yet, most of their users don't understand the implications. The burden of education and informed agreement to the new deal is on the deal-changers side, and it is true that such change is challenging to do well on a social contract level. Just because it's difficult, though, doesn't mean you won't pay the consequences if you don't do it.