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Sunday, April 25, 2010

My issues with Facebook privacy

"You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike"

Yep! I deactivated my Facebook account today.

This isn't the first time I've walked away from Facebook. Two things were different back then: back then I wasn't using Facebook correctly, and also I actively deleted the profile. This time, the profile is merely deactivated, which means logging in will restore the account. But more important, it's not me misusing Facebook: Facebook is misusing me.

Look, I actually like using Facebook. And I like being in touch with my friends who use it, too.

So why did you deactivate the account?
This afternoon my friend Sean said the following:
So, I headed over to this morning, and I saw a little ticker in the top right corner of the page scrolling my Facebook connections' updates. This is after I opted out of Facebook's idiotic Instant Personalization bullshit.

When we're talking about handing over personal data like this, I don't know what else to call it other than evil. I've been opted out of that "feature" from the moment they launched it, but Facebook is still sharing my data with other sites.

For the time being, I've logged out of facebook in my primary browser, and I'm not ever staying signed in there again. If this sort of thing continues (Facebook taking me visiting some random site on the Internet as implicitly granting them permission to hand over my personal data), I may go all out and nuke my FB account from orbit.
I checked and sure enough, it did the same with mine, even though I spent fifteen minutes trying to minimize my settings. The only way, it seems, to deactivate this, was by changing a setting on So, does this mean that in order to control Facebook information I must change settings not just on but also on any site that gets access to Facebook's data? That's just too much for me.

You might find this to be hypocritical since most of my Buzz content is public. The difference between Buzz/Blog and Facebook is in how I use them. Facebook is, for me, a place to connect with less technical-savvy personal friends. As I said upon my return:
Last month learned that many of my friends (the real ones, the ones I wanted to spend weekend time with) had joined The Facebook in the intervening time. All of a sudden there was this real value to returning to The Facebook, and so I have.
I discuss much more personal stuff with those friends than I would discuss on Buzz or a public blog. All of this is a long way of saying that you don't actually know what I share on Facebook, but more personal than this. If they're giving my personal life away to CNN, I can't use it.

What would make you return?
I have faith Facebook will address this, but I hope part of addressing this takes the form of consolidating their privacy controls. There are plenty of settings everywhere, but I do not have time to track them down.

And this is the crux of the problem: No matter how much time I spend tweaking Facebook's privacy settings, I can't help thinking I missed a setting someplace else.

While they're at it, they could address some other privacy issues:
  • Limit who can add me as a friend: Right now, friends-of-friends can ask to be my friend. I don't want that: I want to stop people from asking. Allowing people to ask to friend me is social pressure. I want to use Facebook without the social pressure of expanding my graph.
  • Put an end to the slogginess of setting privacy levels: By way of an example, there are some visibility settings that are listed as a choice between Everyone, Friends of Friends, Friends Only, and  Customize. Only when selecting "Customize", are you offered a second layer of settings, including "Only me." Why can't "Only me" be on top? Yet another way that Facebook cares about the social whole over the individual.
Why not just delete the account?
Because I like my friends, and Facebook is currently the easiest way to keep in touch with them. When Facebook puts me back in control of my data I'll happily return.

Aren't you some Google corporate shill?

I'm giving up an easy communications mechanism with my best friends, including the one who announced his baby's birth on Facebook, and nowhere else. And I'm walking away. My employer can't get me to do that. But careless treatment of my personal thoughts and opinions can.

What about staying on Facebook and educating your friends?

It's true. It's more effective to stay on Facebook and educate people than it is to run away. But this isn't about educating people, and it isn't about this bigger notion of The Wild Internet World And Peoples' Privacy. This is about The Wild Internet World And MY OWN PRIVACY.

Horse crap. You say plenty of public stuff on the web.
Don't define my comfort levels, asshole.

Update: Yes, it has been made clear to me that since CNN has the event stream via an iframe, they don't actually have access to my data. I considered redacting that portion of this post, but the important thing was still the confusion I have around the Facebook security settings. The crux of the problem, as commented, still stands: "No matter how much time I spend tweaking Facebook's privacy settings, I can't help thinking I missed a setting someplace else."


Anonymous said...

This is the latest in a long line of abusive tactics by facebook. They abuse us, then retreat. They see if they can get away with it and if they can't they retreat a bit. One day they'll just slap the shit out of us and leave us bleeding on the floor. It's a pattern of abuse that spouses find themselves in all the time. The abuser says they're sorry until of course the next time. It's time to get out, get out now.

Anonymous said...

Yeah - I deactivated my account, too. But I really want to delete it.

M. Edward (Ed) Borasky

Anonymous said...

Hi. I think there is a better way of dealing with this than deactivating your account.
Since Facebook decided to put our profile pic everywhere. I have changed my pictured to a "Facebook: Respect my privacy" sign.
That way all over my wall friends and if for some unknown reason I appear recommending products when my friends log in, they will see that i am not very happy with Facebook.

konberg said...

That's actually an interesting idea, @Anonymous#2. For now I'm gonna sit back and see how things play out. Life without the Facebook has been interesting.