Why I’m Leaving Facebook

It’s not strictly true, I will have a facebook ID again in the coming months, but it will be an output only ID. By that I mean it will be an ID that I can post things to, but little more than that.

As I said in my “evil empire” post, I’ve become more and more concerned about not just what data they collect, but what you can learn from it. They sell our data, and it’s pretty easy to drill down on the data and learn all sorts of things, even though the data is supposed to be anonymous.

The problem with this is not just what facebook can tell, it’s that to a degree it is a very biased view of who we are. For the longest time, the standing joke was:

if it’s not on facebook, it didn’t happen

But you know that’s not true. When was the last time you posted about your intimate desires, or genuine mistakes, or arguments you had with important people in your life, or private details of your dealings with banks, managers and so on. These all go to make up who you are, what makes you tick.

What facebook has is a simple snapshot, someone who is vastly different online than offline. Yeah, facebook knows I’m liberal, likely not religious, I read the Guardian and the New York Times and probably trust them for news as I spend more time reading articles. Facebook knows I have a generally negative view of the new President and it thinks it know what products and brands I “like“. The data says my “psychological gender” is more male than feminine, but not by much; I’m pretty laid back but do get emotional.

Our data is sold in bulk, using specialised tools, you can target data geographically, based on numerous categories. It is supposed to be anonymised when sold, but it’s relatively simple to identify. This week in Ireland the American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU] was trying to defend our privacy rights, when facebook moves our data between Europe and the USA. Europe has much stronger data protection rights. Facebook of course argued against that.

If you are not convinced, watch this video from the creators of Data Selfie, a chrome extension, see how what you do [on facebook], leaves a data trail to the person you are [on facebook].

The lack of control over our data is seriously concerning. Even though I’ve already deleted the primary facebook app from my phone, as well as Messenger. You can’t even see the data, I fear that facebook has data I can’t control, can’t delete, and somewhere in a facebook data center, I have a twin, someone I don’t know.

Facebook socialgraph

facebook socialgraph bar

Yesterday the menu bar on my browser facebook page changed. I realized I’d been given access to their new SocialGraph feature but didn’t immediately realize the power of it. I tried it out a few times, did some obvious searches and went back to work.

Then late yesterday evening I came back to it, tried a few more things out and then suddenly, it was 3:05 a.m. The power of this is truly awesome. With power comes responsibility, in this case the responsibility lies with facebook users. Remember, when you are not paying for something, YOU are the product.

So, socialgraph is really helpful when you want to find a picture of you and a friend at an event, that either you, your friend, or someone else took. If you don’t get the query right, facebook will even give you helpful suggestions on how to search. The more information you put in the description, update, tags etc. the more specific the result will be. It’s really powerful.

Great. Well hold on. Remember YOU are the product. Turning to the dark side, it became really interesting to search for things, for example:

  • photos from 2006 of friends at college < Facebook was mostly still just emerging from “the facebook” back then. It was only colleges that could get access before that. Trust me, some of my friends need to seriously go back and delete their pictures, and especially pictures they are tagged in.
  • friends who are single women < Yes, facebook has gone from a psuedo dating hookup platform to a full blown competitor for match.com. Queries can be much more extensive, you can search for people who like something, that are single, live in a specific place and are between age and age.
  • People at work who like triathlon < I’ve been toying with the idea of running a small event to get feedback from a few people. So I decided to try people who work at xxx in yyy and like triathlon. Sure enough a massive list of specific people, with often there actual job titles, locations, etc. and of course, since they are on facebook, you can send them messages etc. Yes, messages to non-friends now charge if you want them to show up in their inbox, put I cut-n-paste 60 names into Outlook, pressed alt-k and yammo, resolved through the corporate name and address book.
  • People who like dance music and live in austin < now you don’t even have to like a page to give away your data. It’s available to mine for free. Again, the only gate here is that if they want to message you, they either have to pay or it ends up in your “other” inbox.

In general this has to be seen as a huge step forward in what you can do with facebook. It’s also hugely revealing in ways I’d never thought about that open us all up to commercial exploitation. Using this harmless question, I was really surprised at the results. My friends who are between 50 and 55 and like Jack and Adam’s Bicycles.

Definitely time to double check what information you’ve given facebook, especially in your profile, where you check-in and especially what businesses and hobbies you like. If you are a friend and noticed yesterday that I added an employer for the first time since I joined facebook, now you know why.

Doing who is searches is also included, but just retrieves information from bing. Amongst other things who is mark cathcart retrieved the following “Mark Cathcart read classics at Cambridge. He published as a City analyst with his innovative style earning him a top rank in international surveys for a number of …” < True, but not me. More on this problem up next.