I just de-friended Facebook.
I have no interest in tweaking 50 Facebook privacy settings every few months as the company changes its policies in a never-ending quest to wring profit out of my identity. Facebook's striking tone-deafness when it comes to privacy has simply caused me to lose confidence that the company will protect my personal information. In short, Facebook has lost my trust.
So instead of dealing with 50 different privacy settings, I'm simply going to deal with one: Deactivate.
Late to The Game
I'm hardly the first person to reach this conclusion. Stories of people deactivating their Facebook accounts are all over the place. And, truth be told, I wasn't using the service much anyway. (My dog actually uses it more than I do.) I originally joined Facebook because, as a tech reporter, I figured I couldn't reasonably cover the company without using its service. But I quickly discovered that I just don't use it that much, and when I do, I'm inundated with boring content from those few "friends" who post frequently. It isn't that I'm not curious about what my real friends are up to, I guess I just prefer interacting with them in old-fashioned ways.
Facebook's privacy policies are alarming, to be sure. But the truth is I'm not really getting any value out of Facebook, anyway, and I don't think I will really miss it. My friends, (and many others), seem to find a way to get in touch with me through other channels, like phone, email, Twitter and mountaintop fire signals. Sometimes, I actually speak to my friends on the phone, or -- and this is crazy -- get together for drinks with them or even visit them in their homes. We go shopping and cook food and make dinners. Radical stuff.
In my online life, I talk to my friends, family and coworkers through email, instant messaging and video chat. I get music from iTunes or online music sites. I find general information using Google and Wikipedia or JSTOR. I buy things using Amazon and Ebay. And I keep track of friends and contacts using Twitter or Foursquare.
What finalized my decision was the realization that when it comes to privacy, Facebook's interests and mine are not aligned.
In retrospect, I should have been forewarned when I wrote a story in November 2007 that quoted Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg declaring that, "There is no opting out of advertising." Facebook's then-CFO Gideon Yu chimed in, describing the company as a small band of people "who are trying to take over the world."
At the time, I chalked those comments up to the giddy proclamations of a start-up that was commanding massive valuations and making old-media titans swoon. In light of recent developments, those comments have taken on a decidedly darker hue.
The simple fact is that Facebook has created a bewildering situation for its users. For most people, it's next to impossible to decipher what all of its frequent policy changes mean for individual privacy. And that confusion has caused several once-loyal Facebook users to jump ship out of frustration. It's just not worth the hassle.
For many, the last straw came three weeks ago after Zuckerberg introduced the new "Open Graph," which he described as "the most transformative thing we have ever done for the Web." I don't know about that, but he's managed to transform me from a Facebook user to, well, not. The Orwellian-named "Open Graph" will spread Facebook's infrastructure around the Internet -- and unless you have the time and wherewithal to pore over your privacy settings -- it will also spread your personal information to Facebook's partner sites.
Loss Of Trust
In response to growing privacy furor, Facebook issued the following statement Thursday:
"Everyone within the company understands our success is inextricably linked with people's trust in the company and the service we provide," it said. "We are grateful people continue to place their trust in us. We strive to earn that trust by trying to be open and direct about the evolution of the service and sharing information on how the 400 million people on the service can use the available settings to control where their information appears."
From my point of view, this is not good enough. Fact is, I have lost trust in Facebook. And while the company may think it's being "open and direct," my experience as a Facebook user is not consistent with this statement. I have a number of friends and contacts who work at Facebook, and given the privacy backlash, I feel bad for them. Truth is, the company is stocked with an extraordinary number of smart people who want to do the right thing.
The problem is with Facebook's senior leadership, starting with CEO Mark Zuckerberg, which has badly misclaculated the all-too-predictable backlash from their tone-deaf insensitivity to privacy concerns, and dare I say it, their rapacious sublimation of common sense to the gods of profit.
Mark my words, Mark. You continue down this path, and you'll destroy the company. Things can change very quickly on the Internet, and you'd better get your hubris in check before you the face the same fate as Xerxes.
Maybe I'll reactivate my account at some point if the company can convince me that it is serious about being a good citizen when it comes to protecting my information and making it easy for me to control my privacy settings. Believe it or not, there's actually a way to build a wildly successful Internet business based on user information. Some of your top executives may be familiar with that model.
But Facebook's leadership needs to do some real soul-searching. Until then, you can follow me on Twitter or visit my website. And if you want to be in touch with me, I'm experimenting with this radically new, internet-based communications service. It's called email.
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