Quit Facebook Day?
24000+ Facebook users have publicly committed to quit their accounts on “Quit Facebook Day”, the 31st of May. Thousands of users will revolt against Facebook and not just for the sake of their privacy. The campaigners, from Quitfacebookday.com, argue that Facebook doesn’t give their users fair choices to manage their data; the settings are too complex for the average user. Moreover, they draw attention to the importance of future of the Web as an ‘open, safe and human place’, and acknowledge that Facebook is currently causing hindrances to realize such a future.
It’s not the first time that the social network behemoth is facing heavy criticism. Over the last three years many changes to the technical architecture troubled users and privacy critics. After the Beacon debacle in 2007, Facebook repeatedly announced new features or changes that would benefit the users; with simpler and greater control over their data. However, in most cases, users have evidently lost more control over their data than they supposedly would gain.
More and more user data is shared publicly by default. Last year, Founder Mark Zuckerberg even asserted that sharing information more openly and with more people is a contemporary social norm, which they needed to reflect (1). Needless to say, many opposed this statement. Facebook’s latest features, Open Graph, pervasive ‘like’ button and instant personalization, certainly push the envelope on ‘openness’ and ‘connectedness’. Facebook, at the centre of the Web? Thanks, but no thanks.
Personally, I don’t like to see my profile picture appear, every time I read blog comments somewhere on the Web. This same goes for the emerging (present?) like-culture, whereby clicking on the pervasive like-buttons creates a permanent link to you profile, to your ‘friends’ and (some of ) your personal information. Of course, it is very useful for lazy marketers; Facebook users who turn themselves into prospects. Facebook obviously does not ‘sell’ personal information, like Zuckerberg recently explicitly stated (2). It’s because they don’t need to; users are giving it away for free.
It would be naïve to believe that this always occurs voluntary. It’s rather the opposite. Just have a look at YourOpenbook which brutally exemplifies the privacy unawareness that people might have. Over the last three years, Facebook rampantly added new features and new default settings. However, the ‘default settings’ have changed often. Therefore it has lost its essence and caused a lot of confusion. Instant personalization is called instant for a reason; it is an opt-out feature. Arguably, Facebook has been very busy with giving users a sense of control, rather than actual control. Simplicity is not a given. Neither is privacy/-awareness.
“Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life. Whether you want to or not.” (Youropenbook.org)
Recently, Facebook has introduced new privacy controls under pressure. These, however, already have been subjected to criticism. A few days from now Facebook is about to lose many users on Quit Facebook Day. This might possibly trigger a greater debate about its dominance (on the Web). However, the loss of a few thousands users arguably won’t change much. The social network service is close to 500 million registered users. Moreover, we shouldn’t forget the supporters of their new business strategy. Arguably, one downside of Quit Facebook Day is that many critical users will leave the medium; this might make domination easier.
Fortunately, there is a world outside of Facebook. Many developers are currently challenging themselves conceptually and technically to build interoperable open source alternative social networking services. Among them are four New York University students who are dedicated to build the first privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all distributed open source social network over the summer. ‘Diaspora’ should ultimately allow users to run their own personal web server, to securely store and still share their data among friends; they are in full control of their social graph. The Diaspora team has collected nearly $200.000 in just a few weeks on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter to fund the project development (while their initial goal was to collect $10.000). More information about the project can be found here.
In the meanwhile, a lot of people will consider quitting Facebook and evaluate the meaning of the service in their personal social context. However, if you do stay, it does not mean you have to abide to “protocological” control in Facebook.
Here are some tools and userscripts that critical Facebook users may find helpful.
1-Reclaimmyprivacy: an independent and open tool for scanning your Facebook privacy settings.
2-Givememydata: a Facebook application designed to give users the ability to export their data out of Facebook for any purpose they see fit.
–Unf*ck Facebook: experience the pre-Beacon Facebook
–Remove ‘like’ buttons from any website
Whether you quit Facebook, or not, it is great that more and more people are constructively working towards the realization of non-exploitative, interoperable open-source social network systems, that do give users proper options to control and manage their online data.
See you on the other side.
Marc Stumpel (@Zuurstof)
I’m currently writing my master’s thesis about control and resistance in social media. Do not hesitate to contact me for any useful exchange of information.
(1) Facebook’s Zuckerberg Says The Age of Privacy is Over, <http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/facebooks_zuckerberg_says_the_age_of_privacy_is_ov.php>
(2) From Facebook, answering privacy concerns with new settings <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/23/AR2010052303828.html>