Is it time to leave Facebook?


I’ve had reservations about Facebook’s privacy for some time. In fact I approach all free commercial applications, from Google to Ning, with a healthy dose of scepticism. Recently I’ve been reading Dan Yoder on his blog and on Business Insider.

He gives ten very cogent reasons why he has deleted his Facebook account, including issues of lack of privacy and data security – which are the main reasons I have been cautious myself. These include that Facebook’s CEO Mark Elliot Zuckerberg has a documented history of alleged unethical behaviour, which I didn’t know before but am not surprised at.

Dan also criticises the Terms of Service and details ways in which Facebook is getting members’ data – encouraging them to share what they might not otherwise share – and using it without proper information or agreement from the owners of the data. Dan points to the “excellent timeline from the EFF documenting the changes to Facebook’s privacy policy.”

All data is shared with applications, not just small parts relevant to the application. I try to avoid applications, because I don’t know anything about the builders who then have access to my data – I don’t play farms or scrabble or vampires. However, I admit to succumbing to applications that link my social networks together. I’m rethinking that policy after reading Dan’s expose.

Dan also points out that it’s really difficult to delete your Facebook account. Whatever you do don’t just “deactivate” it as “deactivating means you can still be tagged in photos and be spammed by Facebook (you actually have to opt out of getting emails as part of the deactivation, an incredibly easy detail to overlook, since you think you’re deleting your account)”. The page to delete your account is here (thanks Dan). “Basically, Facebook is trying to trick their users into allowing them to keep their data even after they’ve “deleted” their account.”

Just because something is free doesn’t mean it’s open source. Open source applications have the benefit of being scrutinised by a community. OK, crowd-sourced software isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot more likely to be “open” than anything from a commercial company that calls itself “open” but is really merely “free until we can think of a way to monetise it, ethical or not”. As the recent move by Ning to charge for all its services has shown, you don’t EVER get something for nothing. There is always a trade-off. Ning has come out with a plain business model to sustain its services and said that it’s charging for its social networks. It shouldn’t be a surprise. You pay Facebook by giving them all your data. And once they have it – you may never get it back or be able to delete it.

Just last month (April 19th) Facebook announced a plan to transform most of the elements in a person’s profile (including home town, education, work, activities, interests, and more) into “connections”, which are public information and do not have privacy settings that you can change. If you refuse to make these items into a Connection, Facebook will remove all unlinked information. It starts getting scary…

And no, I’m still keeping a watching brief, keeping my Facebook account, but being aware of the implications. Dan’s deleting his account. What about you?