While I'm still getting comments on my post about How to Leave Facebook, around the web many more instances of discontent with Facebook's policies are rearing their heads.
First, it was comforting to know that I was not alone in the not-so-pleasurable experience of manually deleting all my Facebook content piecemeal. Kate Raynes-Goldie writes:
It took me just under four hours, sitting there clicking delete delete delete. It also didn't help that their software seems to get a bit screwy when you delete a lot of stuff fast. At one point I had left a bunch of groups, but it still had me listed as a member, but wouldn't let me leave again because I wasn't a member. Once you've had your hours of fun, you have to email Facebook again and ask them nicely to delete your account. I thought all of this was an insane requirement, so I emailed our friend Facebook Peter. The reply:
"We ask that users remove their own content so that you can be assured that this information has been cleared before we delete your
Right. A bunch of geeks who make one of the most popular SNSes can't figure out a way to do a mass delete of my user data.
You know what's ironic? I wasn't seriously thinking about deleting my account until I got that email back from Peter and discovered how next to impossible Facebook has made the process.
Anyone else notice that we speak of Facebook as an entity that has its own agency, rather than as a company with a bunch of people behind it? They sure do a good job of reinforcing that notion by making me interact with some guy who is from Facebook, rather than having a last name. Such a tired comparison, but it is totally like Big Brother. We don't question what the Facebook people do, because Facebook isn't people, it's a neutral machine that just is.
That's a poignant illustration of what's wrong with people's attitudes - or lack thereof - towards the 'company' that is Facebook. People - including some of the smartest people I know - have stopped asking questions, not so much because they don't care, but because they don't want to have to reflect upon their perfect little friend-poking, facebook-app-adding, group-joining little sterile world.
In a similar vein, Adam from Calgary went through the same thing, for much the same reasons that I did. It took over 24 hours for Facebook to close his account after he manually deleted all of his data:
All the pleases in the world don't work.
All facebook offers its users is a "Deactivate" option. All of your information and history remains on their servers.
Why do I want to delete my facebook account? All of your pictures, notes, and interests belongs to them. Plus Facebook wants to eat our babies. Put simply, allowing facebook to do whatever it pleases with what is mine, is contradictory to my ideals. And perhaps 260 of my friends finding that I've removed myself from facebook will have greater impact than any other means of protest I have.
So I decided enough was enough, and I have begun a facebook cleanse. And it feels good.
Trust me, it does feel good. Back in my day, we didn't send each virtual beers, we had "real" beers.
Last week over at the Guardian Unlimited, Jemima Kiss had great overview of what she calls "Facebook backlash", but what is really the beginning of a heightened sense of awareness about what constitutes private data, and how we decide how that data gets turned into public knowledge about ourselves. There's also the case of the hype machine getting turned down, as is always the case. Facebook was a rolling snowball of media attention, but now the reality is starting to dawn on people - Facebook simply isn't all that interesting from a technological, sociological, or economical point of view.
Social networks, in particular, are driving the development of these models because the are repositories of so much personal information. But the flip side of that is where the boundary is drawn between personal and private.
Facebook appears to be at the sharp edge of all these issues, partly because it has had so much coverage in the past 12 months and it seems inevitable that it will have to drop off the other side of the hype cycle, for a while at least. But it also has a demographic that is perhaps the most likely to question how their information is used, with an older userbase than Bebo and one that is encouraged to use their real names, unlike MySpace.
In their written response to C4 they say that "Facebook does not use any information from deactivated accounts for advertising purposes." If that is the case, why do they retain the information at all? And although they aren't using it for "advertising purposes", are they making other use of it, and if so, what?
I'm still waiting for responses from either TRUSTe or the ICO, I'll be sure to blog about them when I receive them. In the meantime, if you want to get Facebook to delete your account entirely, you can always try mailing them, quoting the clear precedent they have set by closing my account. I really can't understand why Facebook make the whole process so difficult, they are an extremely popular service and the amount of work involved in closing accounts properly is tiny in comparison to the volume of activity the site sees.
In his cleverly titled "Prisoners of Facebook" post, Ben King writes:
Well, it is their drunken party pics, after all - why should FB keep a copy? I have to say I don’t like the idea of some faceless US corporation keeping copies of those pictures of me with the seventies moustache and wig which grace my FB page. Particularly if they won’t tell me why they want them.
Facebook is at a bit of a turning point, it seems to me. My social circle is pretty much bang in the middle of the Facebook demographic. In April, everyone was raving about how much they liked it. Now lots of people are saying they’re bored with it. (Though just as many are clearly still spending too much of their lives on it).
The Microsoft investment could be the start of the transition from plucky little startup that everyone loves to faceless corporate behemoth which people either tolerate, or are mildly afraid of. Carry on with the creepy data hoarding, and there won’t be much ‘mildly’ about it. Anyone for ‘OpenSocial’?
Like I mentioned before, Facebook is not only creepy and overbearing, but it's boring. There is something intrinsically valuable in building relationships, meeting friends, socializing over a pint or four, and building your own 'groups' - in the real world. The fact that these things require more effort in person than, say, on a sanitized sterile white web page managed by an all-seeing-eye, is a testament to the importance and 'raison d'être' of face-to-face interaction. When all the Facebooks, MySpaces, Flickrs, Youtubes and their ilk and offspring have faded into dust, you and I will still be looking forward to enjoying a properly poured, non-virtual pint of Guinness together - anywhere, anytime.
But the all-time most entertaining writeup of why Facebook sucks goes to the enigmatic TommyV2. It gets funnier and funnier as it goes on, only because it's such a poignant writeup of your stereotypical Facebook user. I'll quote bits and parts of it here, but trust me, you want to read the whole thing:
Sometimes it takes a real man to listen to someone’s pain. I get to do it on a daily basis, oftentimes not by my own admission. Today’s life-threatening terrorist force comes not from the Middle East, but from your very own computer screen. It’s called Facebook, and it’s going to ruin your life – if it hasn’t already.
You sign up for an account. You put in some bullshit quotes and little blurbs about yourself, like you were making a singles ad. You are in a way, because you’re about to whore yourself out to the lowest bidder.
You friend writes on your “wall.” They say something meaningful like “OMG I haven’t seen you in ages! We gotta hang out soon!” Weird, eh? Last time I checked I hung out with my friends all the time. In fact, we were having so much fun hanging out that we forgot to not see each other in ages.
You start using Facebook as a filtering service for your entire life. You start to judge people’s worth based on their profile. How many books they have read? What do they listen to? Is their life quote deep or just funny? Does it change every day? Oh my god, this person likes dogs too! Must be a great person…!
You die, finally. No one notices because you weren’t there to post that as your status message. The end.
I, as a human being, implore you to stop using Facebook. Delete your account. You’ll be surprised when no one even notices. It is one of the most evil devices ever created and it’s destroying your life. You are hopelessly addicted and it will be the end of your natural life. I guarantee if you can make it 2 weeks without it, your life will become better in every way. Please share this article with everyone and see if it raises any concern – you’ll be surprised. And ashamed…and you should be.
Seriously, just go read it.
As with many other things, though, it's the personal toll in leaving Facebook that is hardest to quantify. When visiting a friend or a colleague, four times out of five I'll glance at their laptop and see their Facebook profile page. Driving past
breast Best Buy or Future Shop in Laval, they've got these enormous Facebook posters up, along with a list of - brace yourselves - Facebook-compliant mobile devices that they have available for sale. Flipping through radio stations I'll catch the DJ on CHOM 97.7 talking about his Facebook friend list - right after an Apple ad, and right before a segment where he pokes fun at bloggers, reminding them to 'brush their teeth' in between all their blogging, no less... (to be fair, the French-language stations are much more condescending and skeptical about Facebook). Visiting the Bell Canada site for a friend, I'm greeted by a big Facebook Mobile logo.
And for the coup de grâce, people that I mistook for friends basically ceased acknowledging my existence outside of Facebook. When I had an account they'd be all "Hey! Long time no see! Good to hear from you!" and would write the occasional blurb on the ole' wall. However, once I left, nary a voice mail, SMS or email was received from them ever again. Leaving Facebook made me feel like the clichéd lone samurai being exiled from his village, never looking back. Well, ok - in this case the 'village' was composed nearly entirely of spoiled english-speaking upper-middle-class white hipster kids - but still, it was a bit jarring to feel that all those 'lost connections' Facebook had seemingly helped restore had suddenly disappeared again. Proof positive though, that they weren't ever real - just another way that Facebook takes the smallest fleeting figments of your imaginary social 'life' and blows them up until you start believing them yourself.
Someone I long looked up to and respected as a close friend, a colleague and a mentor straight-up called me a 'juvenile, puerile, loud crybaby' for leaving facebook and writing about it. We never even contacted each other on Facebook - we'd always just chat over IM, email, or run into each other at a Cafe or something. It's somewhat ironic that one of my most valuable personal connections was broken when I left Facebook not because our interactions occurred predominantly on Facebook, but because they didn't like the idea of me leaving Facebook. I suppose it's yet another example of my departure helping me identify which bonds in my life were stronger than the fading scotch-tape of Facebook's structure. Ok, maybe not that deep, but something along those lines. :)
So, what can you do?
You can follow in our footsteps - us the great explorers of this new, Facebook-free frontier - and close your account. You can convince others to do the same. You can file a complaint with TrustE, the privacy body of which Facebook is a member (yet doesn't subscribe to its regulations, since you can't easily close your account if you want to). You can get back to your normal self.
Get off Facebook, get on with your life. You'll thank me later.
Has a nice ring to it, no? :D