One Rule To Ring Them All - Quit FaceBook Day
I recently put up a status message on my FaceBook profile stating:
“I’m committing FaeceBook suicide by the December solstice. In the meantime, I’m launching a project to document both its useful features, and it downsides, and design a free, open, decentralized replacement based on open standards and respect for privacy - no scraping your personal data for targeted advertising without your permission. One substitute I intend to actively work with the developer of is http://www.CoActivate.org. An open alternative for status messages is http://www.identi.ca/. Copy this status update if you support this project!”
Then, a few days later, I learned about an organized ‘Quit FaceBook Day‘ which is encouraging people to delete their accounts on the rogue social networking site on May 31 of this year, so I’ve decided to up the ante, and delete with the crowd. Why? I’m not going to argue that FB isn’t useful. Clearly it serves some purpose for the millions of people who have signed up for accounts over the last four years, but there are a lot of things people need to know about FB.
For a start, FB reserves the right to sell licenses to other companies to use all the personal data you add to the site, from status messages, comments and discussions, to your photos and videos (see their Terms of [Dis]Service, section 2, paragraph 1). Where more enlightened social media sites like FlickR recognize your rights to keep own data private, or share it in a way you choose using CreativeCommons licenses, FB prefer to privatize and monetize it. Don’t hold your breath waiting for royalty cheques either, FB keeps any money they make out of your data.
Another thing a lot of people don’t know about FB is that CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been an identity thief since his days at Harvard University. According to an article in the school paper The Harvard Crimson the precursor of FB was a site called FaceMush, for which he hacked into the student files at Harvard University and illegally copied students’ ID photos.Clearly the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and there’s been a lot of talk among the digerati about the woeful invasions of privacy that seem to be a built-in part of every upgrade or reorganization of FB. Most recently, the charming euphimistic and woefully inaccurate ‘Instant Personalization’ allowed other companies to pay a license to datamine all FB users information. Again, don’t expect to get a cut of the income FB generates whoring your profile to all comers. Also, did you know FB have been content-scanning and censoring your private messages to your FB friends?
Instructions on how to opt-out of Instant Personalization were quickly provided by the Electronic Frontiers Foundation, and Reclaim Privacy have created a free code tool for users to check and fix leaks in their privacy settings, but would a responsible social service provider need to third parties to provide a usable interface for their privacy settings? I don’t think so. There’s quite a few things I reckon they would do, and the EFF have provided a concise list in the form of a Bill of Privacy Rights for Social Network Users. OpenSocialWeb considered similar issues about a year ago in their Bill of Social Rights.
Only supporting services that respect these rights is a quiet, and practical way to protest these issues. However, there are always certain risks to using ‘free services’ online, run by huge, faceless entities. For example, whatever company owns a service at any given time can break it, delete it, or start charging for it, at any time. Examples:
* When Yahoo! boughts EGroups in 2000, and merged it with their YahooGroups service, a number of the Egroups lists I was maintaining were broken. Yahoo didn’t care, and nothing got fixed, and this simply confirmed my building suspicion that using corporate-controlled communication tools - even if they are free as in beer - has some major risks.
* In 1999 Yahoo! also bought GeoCities, which was one of the earliest free homepage hosts and online communities on the web - in many ways the FB of its day. In 2009 Yahoo decided to close GeoCities, and remove years worth of people’s online expression from the public web. Fortunately there were efforts to mirror as much of GeoCities as possible before it went down, y by various groups including the Internet Archive, Reocities, and the Archive Team. Various bits of it have also been archived by InternetArchaeology.org (mainly imagery).
* 2010 - Ning, a site that hosts user created social networks, announced that it was going to start charging groups US$200 per year to keep using their social network. Many of the group with Ning networks are intimidated by the technical work and time required to transition to another service, so they throw up their hands and give Ning their protection money. A classic case of vendor lock-in.