About a month ago, the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke. I found out about it via the linked Guardian article, which I read while at a dinner with friends. I couldn’t put down my phone, and barely touched my wine for the first twenty minutes of the dinner, as friends began to tease me for being antisocial.
A few days later, after the gravity of the scandal had sunken in, I downloaded a copy of my Facebook data to see what kind of information they had in a different format. Bear in mind, I have been largely aware of what I’ve posted and added to Facebook. However, sometimes seeing data in a new format has a different impact.
As I perused my own personal data, I noticed that I had been on Facebook since April 23rd, 2004. I read that on or around March 23rd, and I resolved that on April 23rd 2018, I would delete my Facebook profile. And I’d like to tell you a few of the reasons why.
The feed is terrible. The feed really sucks. It’s no longer a true feed of things that my friends are doing. It’s a feed of the things posted by people who post on Facebook. While that sounds inherent, let me explain.
I have noticed that only a subset of my Facebook friends actually post on Facebook. Similarly, a subset of my friends posts on Instagram, a subset uses Snapchat, etc. Over time, my Facebook feed has become less and less a scrolling list of news and events from all my friends and more and more a feed of posts from the subset that posts on Facebook. And that subset as been shrinking.
I’ll note that I’m not even speaking of the vitriol of the 2016 election and the echo chambers that many live in. (I don’t live in an echo chamber, as I’ve always had a mix of friends on the Left and the Right.) Yes, the 2016 election ramp-up was a gross time for Facebook feeds. But I’m putting that to the side and merely speaking about from whom I’m seeing content.
They have been playing fast and loose with our privacy. There’s no question about this. The Cambridge Analytica scandal should have shown you that they don’t seem to take privacy very seriously. If you haven’t read up on it, here’s the long and the short of it: they did not have adequate checks and balances to prevent third-parties from harvesting your personal information. That’s as simple as it needs to be.
But they also have a long history of doing so. A friend of mine wrote a paper at MIT about Facebook privacy in 2005. It’s interesting to read that paper 12 years later, especially this one sentence from the abstract: “Privacy on Facebook is undermined by three principal factors: users disclose too much, Facebook does not take adequate steps to protect user privacy, and third parties are actively seeking out end-user information using Facebook.” Wow, right?
They have been playing fast and loose with our security, too. If you read that paper, you’ll notice that even in 2005, the authors were noting that Facebook didn’t use HTTPS (secure HTTP) for transmission of your information. That wasn’t rolled out site-wide until 2013. Further, as late as 2011, you had to enable it yourself.
We have to hit them where it hurts: the numbers. While it’s true, Facebook may not actually delete my information, and they may keep a shadow profile on me. But if I delete my profile, maybe others will (one friend already has!). This, hopefully, will lead to a decrease in user growth and a decrease in usage. That will hurt Facebook’s bottom line, and hopefully force them to change. Good tech firms do not make any decisions without hard, reliable data. I’m trying to give that to them.
So, just a few reasons why I’m deleting my profile. Will I stick to it? Let’s hope.