Today I joined a growing number of dissatisfied former Facebook users by deleting my account. For me, the last straw was when Facebook removed the “interests” section from my profile because I wasn’t willing to link those interests to advertisements for things I was interested in.
Facebook made this creepy decision because it doesn’t want the same things that I do. Facebook wants to get paid, and since you and I can’t pay for Facebook, we’re not Facebook’s customers. We’re the products being sold.
Here’s what you can look forward to in Facebook’s coming years:
- At their f8 developer’s conference in April, Facebook gave location-aware ID badges with RFID chips in them to attendees, which reported their whereabouts to their Facebook profiles. This feature is called “Facebook Presence,” and will likely be a standard social feature baked into upcoming cell phones.
- Facebook has previously mentioned interest in creating their own currency - Facebook credits - which would let you buy things on Facebook and connect your profile to your transactions.
- Facebook has an enormous amount of data on you. Not only the things you feed it, but the things you do while logged in are recorded. Facebook not only knows who your friends are, it knows whose profiles you spend the most time looking at. This data, which Facebook calls your “Social Graph,” is valuable. It is sold to the highest bidder.
- Facebook’s future is as an advertising platform. You will buy things, and your friends’ news feeds will read, “Your friend John just had lunch at Chipotle." Marketers know that personal endorsements are the most powerful form of persuasion.
- All of this data, including your private conversations and messages, has been and will continue to be hacked.
Perhaps it’s worth explaining why privacy matters to me in the first place. It’s not like I’m doing anything wrong or illegal on Facebook. I have nothing to hide. Why should I care? Bruce Schneier:
Watch someone long enough, and you’ll find something to arrest - or just blackmail - with. Privacy is important because without it, surveillance information will be abused: to peep, to sell to marketers and to spy on political enemies - whoever they happen to be at the time.
Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we’re doing nothing wrong at the time of surveillance.
We do nothing wrong when we make love or go to the bathroom. We are not deliberately hiding anything when we seek out private places for reflection or conversation. We keep private journals, sing in the privacy of the shower, and write letters to secret lovers and then burn them. Privacy is a basic human need.
When asked why Facebook doesn’t simply make sharing data “opt-in” instead of “opt-out,” Elliot Schrage, vice president for public policy at Facebook told the New York Times, “Everything is opt-in on Facebook. Participating in the service is a choice.” Great, but what about those of us who signed up years ago with different expectations of privacy? Facebook has changed their policies in deliberately confusing ways and neglected to mention it, which is especially upsetting because it means that Facebook wants for itself what it will not give to us.
Facebook always sounds like a cartoon villain when the talk about privacy, because it brings out their worst tendencies (i.e. when you die, Facebook won’t allow your family to delete your account, they will “memorialize” it so that the data is always online). But of course this is no surprise, doing cartoon villain things to capture your data is how Facebook stays alive; that’s why you see news stories about how they involuntarily route your email through their own proprietary system.
Facebook profits when its users become willing participants in the instrumentalization of their own friendships and interests and turn their lives and relationships into data points that can be bought and sold. There’s no room for privacy in that equation.
Not only does that make Facebook act weird, but it makes us act weird too. When we agree to broadcast all of our relationships publicly, they become something that we perform for the world, all couched in irony and cynical detachment. To quote David Foster Wallace, “there’s some great essay somewhere that has a line about irony being the song of the prisoner who’s come to love his cage.”
I’ll end this with the forward to Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death:
We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.
But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions”. In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.