I’ve thought about this a bit, and I’ve read and listened to a bit, and I’ve decided that I’m going to leave Facebook.
In a way, I wasn’t surprised by the Cambridge Analytica affair. I’m cynical enough to think that Facebook wouldn’t follow up on data destruction, but I didn’t quite realise the scale and breadth of the access that Facebook and third party apps have.
I’ve signed into services using Facebook for convenience sake, like many others have, but I didn’t really realise what I was giving access to. I had a look through the settings and found some really disturbing things that third party apps have access to. One particular menu showed that friends’ third-party apps could have access to my information – including things like my ‘current location’ and whether or not I was online. This I found deeply disturbing.
I’ll just go through that again. My friends’ third party apps could access whether or not I was online and my current location. What?! I’ve turned this all off now, but it was on by default.
Thankfully, I don’t have an Android device, but I hear that Facebook has been able to access Android users phone records, including who they call, when, regularity and for how long.
These revelations have caused me to look into this in a little more detail and I don’t think I can stay with Facebook any longer. The price of paying with my data and privacy in exchange for a “free” service is too high a price for me.
Apparently, Facebook has been conducting behaviour and emotional manipulation tests for years (https://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2014/06/28/facebook-manipulated-689003-users-emotions-for-science/#7d82be6c197c). They have been conducting experiments on unwitting users, to tweak their feed, for example to lots of sad stories and ads and posts to then see if your subsequent posts are sad. And they can. A private company, with two billion users, can manipulate the information you see to influence your emotions and behaviours.
Just let that sink in for a minute. That’s a lot of power and influence. To know my likes and dislikes, my preferences and views, my photographs and memories. That’s too much for a single company that makes its money by selling data and advertising to own. I know it’s been my choice to share that information in the first place, but I’ve changed my mind now and I don’t want to any more.
I’m sure they think they’re doing good work at Facebook and Google. To connect people sounds like a noble mission, but it’s all for sale. Connected could have been positive. Connected so that more stuff can be sold or my behaviour manipulated is not so positive. They say that when the services are free, you are the product, and I don’t fancy being Facebook’s product any more.
If behaviour and emotional manipulation is already possible with the data that’s shared on Facebook, imagine what will be possible with the data we share with these “free” services in the future? And this is the bit that scares me most. These are not social media companies – these are private surveillance and information gathering companies who collate data, private thoughts, preferences and memories and sell them on for the highest price. Imagine what will be possible with AI and algorithms in the future with the data that’s provided. I’ve heard it described as in other technologies, these developments would be called ‘insecurities’ in a system that, with the appropriate resilience procedures, would be patched to cover them. A human brain cannot be patched. It will become more and more vulnerable to attack from the more complex processes that Facebook and the like will invent.
I’m hardly a technophobe. I bloody love technology, but I think technology should serve humankind, not manipulate it. To give away our data and, in time, our agency, to machines, leads to Skynet and Judgement Day. Technology should be helping me get things done that I want to do – at my service. I love the idea of ambient or ‘voice-first’ technologies to get stuff done, but there’s no way I would allow a Google Home or Alexa into my home. Companies, who sole purpose is to sell data and adverts, in my home, hearing my private conversations and potentially monetising that? No way.
I saw somewhere that if you wanted Facebook without data selling, you’d have to pay something like £70-£100 per year. I don’t think Facebook is worth that (not that I have the option even if I did think it was worth it), and I think information about my personal preferences are worth more to Facebook. So it’s not a good trade.
Inertia and FOMO have stopped me from doing this before. I have been connected with brilliant people and have been put back in touch with friends that I otherwise wouldn’t hear from – and I will miss them. I will miss seeing stories of incredible joy and positivity and may miss stories of sadness, which is a shame.
So, when GDPR kicks in at the end of May, and I will have some right to be forgotten by Facebook, I will exercise that right and delete my Facebook account. I know that WhatsApp and Instagram are owned by Facebook too, but I won’t be deleting them yet. I think Google is an equally terrifying beast and I will think about getting out of Google soon (you know Google has the right to look through your email and pictures if you use their services, right?). I think Google is almost harder as their services are excellent. As far as I know, Apple is a different business which makes its money out of high profit margin hardware and not selling data, so I feel more comfortable using their products and services.
I don’t claim to be an expert on any of this, and I might be misinformed, but from what I understand, I want out.
I’m only one user of 2bn, so I don’t think Zuckerberg will mind (he’s been quoted as calling users “dumb f*cks” anyway), but I urge you to consider the value of your data in exchange for the “free” service you think you’re getting.