08 May 2010 @ 09:46 am
Why I'm deleting my Facebook account  
This was the last straw: New Facebook Social Features Secretly Add Apps to Your Profile.

Now, it's true that the abiity for other websites to add apps to your Facebook profile without asking was a bug, and was corrected as soon as this story was published. The fact remains that Facebook's new APIs, which allow any website to add a Facebook "I like this" button and link back to your Facebook account, made this behavior possible. Facebook users are now relying on Facebook and its partners to design well, program well, follow their own Terms of Service, and respect users' privacy. But Facebook and its partners have a terrible record on this. For example, the Facebook APIs make it easy for the "Like" button on a website to actually "Like" a completely different site. And the CEO of Zynga, maker of some of Facebook's most popular games, admits to using scams and spyware to build revenue.

I've known from the beginning that "on Facebook, you're not the customer, you're the product." Facebook provides you fun content for free, which gets your attention ("eyeballs"), which it then sells to advertisers. That's the same deal that broadcast TV offers and I've been accepting that for my whole life. But changes within the last year in Facebook's policies about users' private information, culminating in these new APIs, change the rules of that game. Facebook is no longer selling your attention -- it's selling your private information. Basically, anything you've put on Facebook is visible to Facebook's customers -- advertisers, app developers, and anyone else who gives Facebook money for it -- no matter what privacy level you've specified for it. Yeah. Read that again.

In response to these changes, yesterday I stopped leaving Facebook open all the time, instead logging out unless I was actively using it. I posted a status update to this effect, to which a couple of my more tech-savvy friends replied that they're already using a separate browser just for Facebook, just to keep it from interacting with the other websites they visit. Furthermore, one of them said:

At first I thought that simply logging out of FB would be sufficient. Then I started looking at all the .facebook.com tracking cookies that are generated when visiting totally unrelated sites. So now I block facebook.com cookies by default and manually enable them only in a private browsing session when I want to check FB (much less often than before).

That's when I realized that Facebook has become a malware platform.

I used to work for McAfee. I take computer security pretty seriously. One of the main reasons I switched from using a PC to using a Mac at home is that the time, effort, and aggravation involved in keeping the computer safe from malware is much less. And what I'm seeing in Facebook now is what I saw in Windows fifteen years ago: a platform that doesn't do enough to prevent malicious software from negatively impacting users.

On Windows, security holes are patched by third-party anti-malware tools, like McAfee and Norton. On Facebook, the users must perform their own anti-malware scanning (watching out for scams and viruses in messages, blocking undesired applications, being alert for inappropriate requests for personal information, etc.) manually. I don't think there's any technical way for a third party to automate these scans on the Facebook platform. It's going to have to be Facebook that does it, and given Facebook's recent behavior that seems extremely unlikely! It's the scammers and malware makers, not the users, who pay Facebook's bills, so this problem is just going to get worse.

I already seem to spend just as much time on Facebook blocking unwanted applications and invitations as I do interacting with my friends. When I think about the additional work that will be required to keep my private information private, I just want to run screaming.

This is only the last straw. I've been annoyed for years by Facebook's user interface (which changes frequently but never gets better), by its ads, by its psychological manipulation of its users, by the way it lets random strangers associate my name with any photo they like.

This isn't about the time spent on Facebook, it's about the Facebook corporation's business practices. I have over 1000 Facebook friends; many of them are my actual friends and I enjoy reading their updates and sharing conversations with them in comments. The rest of them are, at least, potential readers of my fiction and Facebook is an excellent way to keep my name in front of them. But I've come to realize that, by providing interesting content for Facebook to use to attract and keep users, I'm part of the problem. I'm a professional writer who's been giving content away to a company that I've come to despise.

That stops today.

 
 
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Wolf Lahti: antimonywolflahti on May 8th, 2010 05:03 pm (UTC)

I never really used my Facebook account, being put off primarily by the poorly designed interface; and I deleted my account back in February.

Doing so made me feel curiously free.
martianmooncrabmartianmooncrab on May 8th, 2010 05:37 pm (UTC)
good points on FB, when its no long fun, but more work, its time to rethink options.
Portland: ancient unicorn burial groundjanetl on May 8th, 2010 05:52 pm (UTC)
You're absolutely right that being in FB contributes to it. In Facebook, the "features" are your friends. Everyone complains about the user interface, but that's actually the least important aspect of it. It's easy* enough to set up and use, and it seems like everyone is on it. It has succeeded in pulling in more people than anything else -- so far. I'm now in touch with nieces and nephews and old friends from high school and college that I never had daily interaction with before. I like that a lot.

The people that I've noticed leaving FB (warning! tiny sample size!) are people who've been online for years. They're using Twitter and have active communities in blogging platforms. I'm hoping that my friends and relatives who have come online using FB will gravitate to something else. I am looking forward to a competitor (or competitors that you can integrate into a feed) that balances the revenue and privacy issues better. It's going to be interesting to watch Twitter start paying their way.

*Easy: the only thing in FB that takes significant effort is stepping through configuring privacy options, again and again and again... The Notes (actual blog-length post) feature is confusing, but 99% of people don't seem to even go looking for it. It's all about the short status updates, photos, and games.
AElfflaedbethpeters3 on May 8th, 2010 06:11 pm (UTC)
It was random strangers tagging photos combined with execs at work wanting to friend me that got me to delete all my content & remove my account.
Portland: ancient unicorn burial groundjanetl on May 8th, 2010 06:36 pm (UTC)
If the execs from work got fed up with FB and started using LJ, would you friends-lock your posts and comments, and turn them down as friends?

Note: I'm not at all trying to defend FB. I'm thoroughly creeped out by some aspects of it. I'm curious about how people, me included, are using different social media.
Twilighttwilight2000 on May 8th, 2010 06:45 pm (UTC)
FWIW, that's exactly what I would do - i've avoided friending certain people in that category already...
Sarah Princessprince on May 8th, 2010 06:41 pm (UTC)
I wish I'd grow out of it
I feel like an addict the way I play Facebook games. I twinge at all your good points made here....
Oneselfsnippy on May 8th, 2010 07:53 pm (UTC)
Your summation has finally tipped the balance for me--I've given notice to my friends that I'm deleting my FB account. Since I've posted about my concerns there a couple of times over the last few months, it won't be a surprise.
Laura Anne Gilmansuricattus on May 8th, 2010 10:55 pm (UTC)
I'm not deleting (It's too useful for me, in a number of ways) but I am far more cautious and considered about what I'm posting there and how my settings are handled(and I was already cautious to begin with!). I generally start out assuming the worst of any social site, in terms of privacy/abuse, tho, and check them on a regular basis to make sure they haven't been reset w/o my being aware, so I may have started from a very low bar...

Edited at 2010-05-08 10:57 pm (UTC)
David D. Levinedavidlevine on May 8th, 2010 11:06 pm (UTC)
I, too, have very little confidential information on the site. But the way the new APIs extend my trust relationship with Facebook to, basically, any site on the web pushed me over the line.
Laura Anne Gilmansuricattus on May 8th, 2010 11:16 pm (UTC)
OH, it's not even a question of confidential information -- I don't post that, period. I tend not to join pages, fan or otherwise, don't play games, accept presents, etc, limiting the way FB can get their hooks into me.

I guess I never _had_ a trust relationship for them to break?
Smofbabe: techiesmofbabe on May 8th, 2010 11:58 pm (UTC)
Given that my former boss and now my current boss friended me early on, I have never posted anything on FB that I care about being public :-> Given my geographic isolation, it's too valuable a keep-in-touch tool for me to leave, although I agree that racing to plug all the security holes as I am told about them is indeed a royal pain.
et in Arcadia egoboo: Chicago (from Adler)apostle_of_eris on May 9th, 2010 02:57 am (UTC)
I joined facebook with a premeditated "no secrets" personal policy:
"There will be nothing here which would negatively affect any future evaluation by a snoop, boss, or bureaucrat."
However, I love your suggestion to use a different browser entirely to easily monitor fb's cookies &c. I'll do that RSN.
(Anonymous) on May 9th, 2010 03:44 am (UTC)
what do can the rest of us do?
David,
This is the only link I have to stay in contact with my family.
So what can I do to block as much as I can?
Please e-m me at lindadoherty@mypostoffice.co.uk and tell me what I can do to at least minimize the damage.
I also thought that there were laws about 'privacy' on the internet?
A Wandering Hobbitredbird on May 9th, 2010 03:55 pm (UTC)
Re: what do can the rest of us do?
The problem is that UK and EU law aren't going to protect you from a California site on something like this, and rules that say "they can do whatever they like as long as they explain it in the fine print somewhere" aren't much better.

(I have left almost nothing on facebook: my name, a few chatty posts, and that's about it. I am debating the relative merits of re-adding just the high school and college, so people can know they've got the right person of my name, and deleting entirely.)
David D. Levinedavidlevine on May 10th, 2010 05:14 pm (UTC)
Re: what do can the rest of us do?
Here are some suggestions, in no particular order:

1. Never put anything on Facebook that you would not want your boss, your creepy stalky ex-lover, or your young students/clients to find out. Don't count on Facebook's privacy controls to protect this information; if it's on Facebook (or, well, anywhere on the Internet), it's essentially public information.

2. Be aware that other people can post whatever they want about you on Facebook, including embarrassing photographs tagged with your name. Again, the same is true for the Internet as a whole, but on Facebook the tag with you as an individual is explicit and public. Configure Facebook to send you an email when someone tags you in a photo or post (http://www.facebook.com/editaccount.php?notifications), and remove the tag if you don't like the tagged item.

3. Block all applications except for the ones you are actually using and enjoying. The quickest process for blocking an app I've found is this: when you see a notification from the app in your News Feed, click on the app name (or "throw one back!" or whatever -- any link that takes you into the app), then in the following "allow this app?" page, click the app name again to go to the app's home page in a new window. From here you can click on "Block this application" on the left, under the app's profile picture. I would encourage you to block every single application that crosses your bow as soon as you see it, but I can understand that if the point of Facebook is to interact with friends and relatives you might be required to use FarmVille or whatever that they're also using.

4. Consider using a browser other than your usual one for Facebook, and only Facebook. In your usual browser, never log into Facebook and configure the browser to block all cookies from facebook.com.

5. Never click on a Facebook "Like" link on a site other than facebook.com.

6. Don't expect the law to protect you. To the best of my knowledge there are no enforceable laws protecting your privacy on the Internet. The Internet is international and fundamentally beyond regulation.

Edited at 2010-05-10 05:15 pm (UTC)
Leah Cutter: Battle lineslrcutter on May 9th, 2010 05:00 am (UTC)
I can't quit Facebook -- my family's there. It's the only way I learn about what my family is up to (my niece's pregnancy, my nephew's engagement, to name just a few.) But I do open it up now in a separate browser, that I only use now for FB.
kellymcculloughkellymccullough on May 9th, 2010 03:41 pm (UTC)
I find it too valuable a tool for keeping in touch with geographically scattered friends, colleagues, and fans to give up. But then I went into it assuming that every piece of information I posted there was going to end up on public view, just as I do with anything on the web, and I deal with cookies on an individual basis via Firefox's cookie control system. I always have Firefox check before accepting cookies and mostly I don't allow them.
tagwntagwn on May 11th, 2010 03:20 pm (UTC)
leaving facebook
Alas, I think I agree with you. I will miss the people and daily contact, but this has gone too far, and I'm not savvy enough to keep up with it.
La Mutant of Reputemutantenemy on May 11th, 2010 04:37 pm (UTC)
I completely understand where you are coming from. If I didn't utilize FB for keeping in touch with my community and old high school friends, I would have deleted it long ago.

So instead I go by the routine of always checking my privacy settings, blocking apps from their source, only friending people I know (I exclude co-workers, bosses, and even family members), and I don't use my legal name but the nickname my friends know me by.

Thank YOU for the tip re: using a different browser. I have both Chrome and FF on my Mac so I believe I shall utilize Chrome for FB and FF for everything else.
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )