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.

Goodbye the evil empire?

I’ve become more and more concerned about posting on facebook, and being part of a massive data collection and analysis machine

A wordpress question to my blog followers, both by email, and especially on wordpress. Do you use any of the following reasonably new wordpress features?

If yes, can you post a link to your blog below. I’m looking for some examples. Why?

serveimageI think I’ve mentioned before, I’ve become more and more concerned about posting on facebook, and being part of a massive data collection and analysis machine. So I’m looking for ways to post the same sort of content I would post on Facebook, here. The main problem is I don’t want to clutter my blog post page with daily links, youtube videos, soundcloud and mixcloud audio etc.

It did think about adding an additional page, and adding an RSS feed to the page to pull saved links from paper.ly, instapaper, shareaholic, pinterest and so on, I’ve got a basic page going here, but there is no obvious way to control the RSS update frequency. I can’t add plugins to my site as it is hosted on wordpress.com. While it is a premium site, no plugins can be added.

I can subscribe via the sidebar to an RSS feed, but thats not really desirable, unless anyone knows how to increase(significanty) the size of the sidebar in the twentysixteen theme. So, what I’m looking for is examples, got one?

Post a comment below. I’ll add your blog to my blogroll, and if there are any really good examples and you are willing to share “how-to’s” via email or similar, I’d be willing to make a paypal or amazon gift card payment.

The Austin media lynch mob

aka The Interwebs attack

I’ve been online in one form or another since 1978. I had an “output only” blog at ibm.com back in 1996. The one thing that has most visibly changed over that time is the attack dog that is the facebook thread, the blog comment storm, the faux outrage of people who have no real stake, no real interest, but for whom it makes them feel important by having an opinion, and better still when they can be outraged.

Picture from http://pixgood.com/media-release-icon.html
Picture from http://pixgood.com/media-release-icon.html

“Don’t read the comments!” has been the mantra for years but lately, it has been the mainstream that have become the lynch mob. Just this week here in Austin there has been a major pile-in from the mainstream local media over the name of a local PR company. Turns out the PR company chose a name with what at first appeared a hip name, that turned out to be a major historic, racial slur, refence.

I’m not going to provide links, or any other detail, it doesn’t matter what the company name was, or what the reference was to. I admit, as did a bunch of my friends, I had no idea either.

Yes, having been told, the company should have changed their name and all the steps that came with it. Eventually after the Interwebs piled in, they did change their name. Apparently, they slipped up again though, and fessed up to the new name before they secured all the relevant social media “properties” and a pretty unfunny paraody account appeared almost immediately on twitter. And then in piled the local media with commentary from people who were, for the most part working for media companies whose output, is staid at best. Sigh. You could sense they’d smelt blood and the company was theirs to web shame, to twitbomb, and did they ever.

Ever wonder how the outraged get incited? Ever wonder how these stories start, and how they get the inertia and ““go viral”? A new podcast, Startup has the scoop, on one of their own mistakes, what happened, how it came about, and how it was resolved.

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.

Free and Freedoms aka the Instagram drift

Update 12/18 7:15pm: Instragram explains. I don’t think it will change my view, we’ll see.

For context, from the late 1970’s until, well probably 2002 I spent a considerable time arguing for free software. Free as in rights, not as in beer, as early as 1985 I had a letter in Computer Weekly on the topic.

Over the last few years, the explosion of free “as in beer” software has been staggering, everything from Facebook, and the google empire. Increasingly the amount of advertising is making the apps unusable, and their claims of ownership over your personal information, and the content that you create have grown to a point where I’m amazed that people are just clicking away so many rights via that “accept” button.

In the late 1990’s I was the “free” software/open source evangelist in IBM Software group, and Simon Phipps was in the Java Technology Center at IBM; Simon took over that mantle and has gone on to make an exemplary career and some brilliant contributions in the understanding of the cost and value of open software via his speeches and writing. Recently Simon posted this It’s Not Free If It Cost My Liberty which made me stop and think.

Instagram was one of those iPhone things, everyone was raving about it, it had some cool features and I’ve been using it more and more recently. The recent change to the Instagram ToS though was one step too far for me. Instagram, like owner Facebook, now not only claims ownership of your content, it also claims the right to sell it for their profit.

This article in the Atlantic sums up my position well I think. I simply don’t understand why people are prepared to become essentially slave workers for these hugely profitable software, social media companies, donating their time, profit, content and privacy, for what?

It’s time for a new model, why not pay a small amount per year for access to these services with your own choices of what you are and are not prepared to pay for. Want it for free, then be prepared to give it up. Prepared to pay, then you retain rights.

(CC)I’ve not closed my Instram account, but will be avoiding it. I’ve also deleted my Google+/Picasa web albums over their stance on Tax avoidance in the UK; and restarted using Flickr, both via the web and on mobile. Why there are still constraints on rights, at least as an individual user I can control the license, and make my content free as in rights.