According to Facebook's own amazing system of self congratulation I re-joined Zuck's army 6 years ago. My previous hiatus was due to the poor level of content rather than privacy and I rejoined predominately out of necessity. Recent events have made me rethink that decision and I've reached the conclusion that I have little choice but to delete my account.
Facebook grabs way more than you give
One of the revelations that's come to light in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal is the broad reaching aggregation and storage of call data, contact info (of facebook and non facebook users) based on the use of the "Find a Friend" feature. This is a classic example of technical consent being abused. While Facebook haven't broken any laws in aggregating this data (they did ask for permission) there's an ethical consideration as to why they need this information, why they feel justified in storing it and whether users were truly aware of the depth of their data sharing agreement with Facebook. Combine this with the "shadow profile" that Facebook keeps on every single user
Privacy controls provide a false sense of security
There are many options for controlling who can see what on your Facebook profile but nothing at all that controls what Facebook and it's affiliates can do with your data. The concept of privacy presented by the system is only half of the problem. And as has been ably demonstrated, Facebook themselves simply cannot be trusted to treat this data with respect.
This depth of profiling is likely to become more and more dangerous
While there's work underway to ensure rights to privacy are protected in the modern world, the pace of technological progress is so much faster that we're likely to see more and more issues of this type running far ahead of the regulation or controls that would prevent them. With increased use of AI and machine learning, the depth of the data set is only going to need to increase and allowing companies to profile you to this level. For more see this amazing Twitter thread from Francois Chollet (ironically enough, a deep learning expert from Google)
I can't clean my profile
I've removed every piece of content from Facebook I can. Deleted all my posts, removed all my photos. But there's no guarantee that this is actually effective. Facebook have shown they maintain copies of old call logs and I have no reason to believe that content deletion isn't simply another privacy facade.
So on May 25th (which happens to be the day that the new EU GDPR comes into force) I will be deleting my Facebook, Instagram & WhatsApp accounts and filing a formal Right to be Forgotten notice to ensure they've removed every last byte of data concerning me, my relationships with others and my interactions from their servers.
Privacy isn't a right, it's something we must strive to protect and Facebook's operations leave me no real choice but to disengage with the platform entirely.
I will still be on Twitter (@robdudley) although I'll also be reviewing my content footprint there, and I maintain a blog which is self hosted. It's just a shame that the greed of Facebook meant they can't stop at running a social platform, choosing instead to profile, analyse and mine their users in increasingly murky and convoluted ways in search of every last $ in advertising revenue. That cost massively outweighs the benefit I get from the platform so, for me at least, the choice is clear.
In light of the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica "scandal" I've been wondering if it's possible to assume a position of being free of all social networks. Not as a definite plan but rather as an exercise in exploring the feasibility of removing myself from these services.
While I'm not one to buy into the histrionics surrounding the misuse it has rather focussed my mind on the level to which I give my data freely to these service providers and, consequently, weather I should be taking more care in who I share data with. Since there's next to zero actual control over the use of the data supplied to companies like Facebook the only way to win … is not to play.
Let's take the big ones; Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and the really big player (although not technically a social network) Google.
Ok so closing a Facebook account is easy enough. What would I lose? Well in the day to day not masses but I am a user of Facebook for a series of Pages and I'd need to maintain some form of account to access these. I could tear down the old account and spin up a new one with no real content but the viral nature of Facebook means it's hard to keep an account off the grid so how effective this would be remains to be seen.
Sticking point: Pages
Dead easy – there's no real impact beyond the fact that I actually find the content here useful. Shutting down the account would be simplicity itself and there's no real blocker. That said, it's been a useful tool for communicating in the past. Also currently there's no indication that Twitter is mining data to anything like the degree of Facebook although I assume this is coming.
Sticking point: I actually use it.
This is tough as the value in LinkedIn has always been simply being present on the network. That said there's next to no content on my LinkedIn profile and leaving this "professional" system online is probably not likely to result in my being mined in any way that's going to effect me. Also, I rarely read it so the ads, targeted or otherwise, are pretty harmless.
Sticking point: none really but probably safe enough to leave alone
Couple of problems with Insta. First, it's a great platform and I like the transient nature of image based journalling. Second, it's owned by Facebook and is becoming increasingly ad heavy.
Images – I guess I could get round them by using this blog to host them but I don't get the same exposure and, let's be honest, the narcissistic search for peer & public validation is pretty much the reason we share to instagram anyway. The biggest loss would be the workflow but I'm techy enough I can probably get round that.
Sticking point: I want people to see my lovely photos … but probably shouldn't.
Google currently run my email, calendar and file management. I could replace these but it's not gonna be easy. Own Cloud will replace GDrive but doesn't have the same ease of collaboration. Mail is easy to move but the spam issue is ever present. Calendar is really tricky as I've got a pretty nice workflow of shared calendars for the family which would be tough to replicate with Cal Dav.
Then again, I pay for these services so, in theory, Google shouldn't be using my data to feed their ad monster (they say they don't for paid accounts) nor are they affecting the content delivered to me based on this data so the actual impact is minimal.
Sticking point: very heavily integrated and hard to replace.
Where am I going with this?
Based on the above none of the networks or systems are pain free to leave but I can probably work around most of the limitations. So should I close down FaceBook, Twitter et al? Or are we truly living in a post privacy age? Well that's a conclusion for another post.
(Image credit: Privacy Online by BlueCoat Photos)