I’m Leaving Facebook

Yep, I’m going to do it. Why? Well because I don’t feel comfortable with their privacy policies anymore. When I first joined back in the spring of 2004, facebook had a strict sense of user privacy. Here’s a press release circa 2004,

No personal information that you submit to Thefacebook will be available to any user of the Web Site who does not belong to at least one of the groups specified by you in your privacy settings.

Contrast that to their current policy, as of April 2010,

When you connect with an application or website it will have access to General Information about you. The term General Information includes your and your friends’ names, profile pictures, gender, user IDs, connections, and any content shared using the Everyone privacy setting. … The default privacy setting for certain types of information you post on Facebook is set to “everyone.” … Because it takes two to connect, your privacy settings only control who can see the connection on your profile page. If you are uncomfortable with the connection being publicly available, you should consider removing (or not making) the connection.

If this is how facebook feels, I must then choose to not make the connection. To me, their policies are clearly in service of the corporations they sell my information to; none of these “expanded” privacy policies help me. I do believe one of the primary functions of the internet is sharing, and it is a wonderful tool to do so. However I don’t believe that this sharing should, and, as facebook would have us believe, must come at a sacrifice in privacy.

My interests and opinions are now converted directly into objects suitable only for dataminer’s and advertiser’s consumption. You can read more about this policy in this article.

Now, many may argue that privacy settings can still be set on facebook, and while I respect that opinion, I offer this refutation: first, facebook can change your privacy settings at any time without notice. Not only can they, but they have. Repeatedly. This may seem like a minor inconvenience, a simple trip to the settings page, but without notice, data can be open for the period that you were unaware of the change. I know it happened to me. It’s also greatly discomforting to me to be a part of a company that treats me and my data in this way.

I recently did a privacy check of my facebook account with a tool called ReclaimPrivacy. It found most of my settings secure, however friends could still “accidentally” share my information with corporations. I was unable to fix this problem. However, even if my facebook page had come back with a clean bill of health, I would still have quit on principle and for fear of the future: I cannot get behind a company that has such disregard for my privacy, and whose track record suggests a continual “big brother” decline. Conjuring Orwell may seem prosaic, but I cannot help but feel it is deserved.

So that’s my reasoning. Facebook is very convenient and useful in many ways, not to mention addicting, however it’s also really evil. There, I said it. If you feel the same way, consider quitting facebook too.

As for alternatives, unfortunately there is nothing directly like facebook to switch to that has the same level of popularity. However, the Diaspora Project looks very promising, and there will be a release at the end of the summer. (Thanks to Jack Donovan for introducing me to it!) Also, there’s always twitter, which is very open about being public, so you know exactly what you’re sharing.