The problem (one of many)
To summarize, Facebook has maintained a feature that allows you to hide all timeline events from any other Facebook account that performs a name search for your account for the longest time, and privacy advocates have maintained that this feature helps to prevent employers and profile spiders, crawlers, and sniffers from effectively taking all of those posts and photos (which may or may not be set to “Private”), and building out a profile of you that may be either completely inaccurate or may be detrimental to your public- and working-life.
In removing this feature (which Facebook claims is only used by a “small percentage” of its 1.2 billion users), it is potentially exposing over 10 million Facebook users’ Timelines and tagged photos to the Public. For me, that is the last straw in an ever-increasing list of privacy violations, and is a tremendous incentive to take ownership of my data.
Why does any of this matter?
It matters because it should matter to anyone who’s interested in keeping their public and private lives separate. Traditionally, there has been a status-quo maintained between employers and the employed with regard to one’s private life and one’s work or public life: what the employer doesn’t see or hear about, they cannot use against you. In today’s hyper-social world, social media services like Facebook and Google+ are making it harder (not easier) to keep your photos, status updates, check-ins, and other metadata private. Google+ has been pushing for a couple years now for all profiles to use Real Names instead of user-customizable aliases, and Facebook has been slowly eroding privacy controls on its platform, to the point where even most of the hard-core privacy advocates are warning people to stay away from it. And those are just two recent examples of social media services working to erode your basic privacy on their platforms.
For me, the decision by Facebook to remove this feature entirely constitutes an assault upon my privacy which I cannot ignore. For years, I have used the platform to maintain contact with friends in distant places that have traditionally not been accessible, but since I have a smart phone, email, and a dedicated Gmail account with which I can chat with people, I am finding that Facebook is becoming less-and-less favorable as a communication service.
Privacy matters when we understand that our data is exactly that: our data. Not Facebook’s, not Google’s, not the NSA’s– OURS. Taking ownership of our data, curating carefully who has access to that data, and fighting for our privacy rights when they are threatened by the very same services that we depend upon to provide us even a modicum of privacy. It is for this reason that I am now leaving the Facebook platform and I will be leaving other services that violate my privacy rights over the course of the next year.
In an ideal situation, a balance can be struck between personal privacy by not having one’s data or content exposed in potentially dangerous ways such as to indexers, crawlers, and random passers-by, and sharing the data and content with the people who are deemed “appropriate” by the user. Though the idea of any level of privacy strikes some as rather odd when you are a member or participant on a social media site, it isn’t that much of a stretch of the imagination to want to avoid explaining certain photos that you find yourself tagged in to either your manager, your coworker(s), or your parents.
What are the alternatives (and why leave)?
Sadly, there are no alternatives that do not effectively cut me off from the rest of the 1.2 billion users of Facebook. However, there are a number of additional perks to leaving Facebook entirely. Recent studies have shown that browsing Facebook and reading posts triggers the release of fairly high levels of dopamine (without any of the normal “work” associated with doing so), while simultaneously engendering both narcissism and depression in people that are already at-risk of said psychological afflictions. A conversation I had earlier this morning captured perfectly the strange, anti-social dichotomy of the Facebook experience:
Browsing your Timeline on Facebook and “liking” something is like walking into your best friend’s house, completely ignoring the fact that they might or might not be home, and browsing through all of their photos up on the walls, their books, music, and movie collections and nodding your head in appreciation of the all the pretty things… all the while ignoring the person in-question and never speaking to them.
Seems awfully strange when you think about it in terms of real-life, doesn’t it? I also realized how shallow my relationships with other people have become and how far out of touch I have become with some of the people that have influenced my life so profoundly as a by-product of the creeping “gamification” of my life through services like Facebook (via the “Like” button) and Google+ (via the +1 button). I rarely (if ever) talk on the phone or write a well-executed email anymore, and often I find myself forgetting names of people I encounter regularly. This, to me, is a failure to properly curate my life experience and to cultivate meaningful relationships with the people around me. This is not helped at all by Facebook, and combined with the repeated removal of privacy controls that are central to my methodology of sharing content with people important to me, it has become obvious that Facebook no longer serves the purpose it was intended to serve.
What I will be attempting to create in my life instead is a carefully-curated and more content-rich experience of my online life. Twitter will still be a way for me to broadcast quick thoughts and short commentary on specific topics and issues, but by-and-large I will be reducing my personal exposure to the elements that led me to the current place in my life. Posts on this blog have both been therapeutic and entertaining, providing me a channel through which I can more broadly and more readily express myself and still maintain a level of complexity that I often feel is missing from “short-form” expressive platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. In addition, I make regular use of RSS feeds in order to stay informed on topics of interest as well as to allow myself the luxury of both time and organization in reading longer-form topics from other sources such as opinion columns and blog posts from friends and family.
What does this departure mean?
What this departure means is that it will be more difficult to get in “immediate” contact with me without texting or calling me. It means that people I want to keep in contact with will have to either subscribe to my blog via RSS feed (which is dead-simple) through services such as Feedly or their favorite mail client (Thunderbird and Mail.app in OSX all support RSS feeds), will have to obtain my email address and actually take the time to email me, or will be forced to use the more mundane function of their smartphone: the actual fucking phone. What do I hope this will do for me? Besides freeing up more mental energy to be better-spent elsewhere, I believe this will help relieve and prevent the more negative feelings of jealousy and inadequacy with regard to others’ achievements and will help to keep me focused on the more positive aspects of my own life such as the progress I am making in my climbing efforts as well as the immense progress I am making professionally with regard to my work in the Amazon EC2 “cloud”. To paraphrase the popular saying:
We struggle with insecurity because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.
In this transition, I will hopefully be better-able and better-equipped to take a more active role in curating my experiences and to be a better steward of both my time and others’. In addition, I will be working to take control of my data through other means, including utilizing the services and applications outlined on the PrismBreak.org website and will be flatly-refusing any requests to return to such services.
How do you get in contact with me?
- Subscribe to this blog’s RSS feed (you know you want to)
- Leave a comment on my blog
- Follow me on Twitter (@e1nh4nd3r)
- Send me an email (if you know my email already)
- Call/Text me (if you know my phone number already)
Until next time.