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Why I Canceled My Facebook Account (primevector.wordpress.com)
133 points by imperator on May 2, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 82 comments

I would love for a company that collects personal information and shares it or makes predictions or generates advertising based on it to expose ALL of it to me.

Don't just tell me what you're collecting, and what you do in abstract terms, show me exactly what you have and how you use it. If you have data on the frequency with which I visit friend's profiles, I should be able to see it. If you have data on external links that I've followed, I should be able to see that too. I should be able to see the amount of time I spend logged in, if they track that.

Everything. There should be not one thing that is not available to me through the basic interface. It doesn't have to be on the front page, but there should be an interface and you shouldn't have to be a developer to know how to use it.

I would always favor a company that was open about every piece of data that it held about me, AND everything it did with that data.

There are laws to that effect, that they should disclose what they have on you, for instance, in the Netherlands there is a law that is called the 'wet bescherming persoonsgegevens' (law on protection of personal information), which gives you the explicit right to request all information that is kept on you, and to request deletion of such information.

Google's Dashboard seems like a step in the right direction. Maybe not much more than that, but it's better than nothing.

Creating targeted ads is one thing, identifying you personally is another. FB knows your name, birth date, gender, city. That pretty much singles you out. When combined with all the data about your page views on partner sites that could become privacy threat in the future.

Yes FB is definitely becoming less useful. For example, it used to be that if I listed my employer and set it to "friends only" then that was that. Now, if you visit my profile, it's still friends only - but if you go to my employer's public page, my name is (actually was) listed there! Same with all my previous employers, the colleges I attended, my interests, etc etc. Hometown too maybe! So I have removed all of that.

I can't help but think this will backfire for FB. Their long-term value is being deeply embedded in people's real lives. The real value of FB for me is that my friends merely need to keep their profiles up to date and I have a self-updating address book and birthday calendar. If no-one lists that then FB is merely as sticky as Twitter which is to say, not much.

FB also seems to get less useful over time as you add more people.

Initially, when you have a few people you know really well and get on with, you can post quite freely knowing that it's unlikely to come back and bite you.

Later, as you gain a truckload of acquaintances you have to be much more measured and it winds up feeling like you're running some sort of discount PR agency.

This is an interesting departure from Metcalfe's Law [ the value of the network is proportionate to the square of the number of nodes in the network ].

Perhaps Metcalfe's Law applies up to a certain size, and then tails off thereafter.

There is a limit on the number of people that us humans can reasonably be expected to have friendships with. I have a feeling that it is substantially smaller than the number of 'friends' that facebook attracts.

Hardly a departure, the value is substantial for all those but the user.

The friendship limit you speak of has been hypothesized by an anthropologist (Robin Dunbar) as being in direct correlation to neocortex size. More recently, it's been called "the monkeysphere".

For FB I suspect that the ideal would be a network with lots of nodes but few connections; I want to be able to find my friends but I don't want them to be connected to so many that they have to sanitize their posts/thoughts.

I sanitize my posts (and I post very little), and I would no matter how few connections I had. Given their history of privacy flaws, it's not what my friends see that I worry about.

as you gain a truckload of acquaintances you have to be much more measured

One can't live like this for too long, you have to be yourself instead of a filtered, cleaned-up politically correct version of yourself.

Right, and if I'm not comfortable with doing so on facebook, then I'll go be myself elsewhere.

Twitter was never about having your personal info on display. There's the 'bio' section and that's it. Twitter is a broadcast medium where the information is the primary interest point. I think the stickyness of Twitter correlates to how interesting the tweets are of the person you're following, rather than the person itself (like facebook).

I perma-deleted my account several weeks ago. I was fed up with watching the not-so gradual erosion of privacy which has been occurring since I first opened my account in 2006.

My problem is that the contract, whether legal or implied, that I had with Facebook offered me a certain level of privacy, and protection of data. This is what Facebook built their reputation on. Because of this contract, I uploaded a lot of personal photos, notes and information and generally became deeply involved in the service.

Every time Facebook have a new API release or re-design, however, I became familiar with the uneasy awareness that another slice of this personal information was about to become available to businesses, friends of friends, the general public and goodness knows who else. The final straw for me was the realisation that my friends list was going to be made public, and there was nothing I could do about it. There is no way I want the list of my personal friends and acquaintances being made public: it is just beyond the pail. In hindsight, I should never have put that information on the web at all, but there you have it -- I trusted Facebook to look after that information, and Facebook repeatedly broke my trust, and that's why I've left.

I believe that there is very good reason to protect the basic tenets of our privacy online, and Facebook have shown themselves singularly incapable of doing that. As well as that, I am highly unimpressed with the direction and quality of the product, particularly the UI which has devolved from one of the best on the web to a cluttered, unpleasant mess.

I haven't missed Facebook once. Nowadays, I stick to Twitter, where the contract is clear. Everything is public, and we all know where we stand.

I think, Mr. Zuckerberg is a more evil exploiter with weak ethics than I'm willing to accept.

My take is that Mr Z. is a relative kid (that is, relatively inexperienced), sitting in a room with a bunch of cagey investors who made him an "instant" multimillionaire, and are now asking, "So, what are you going to do for us?"

He has no idea.

My guess at a phenomenological relationship for ethics as a function of time in this situation would be E = E0 exp(-ĸt) where E0 is am empirically determined constant, and dependent on the individual, and ĸ = a measure of the social debt owed to the people pulling the strings. Note that the unit of ĸ is inverse time. This indicates that when the string-pullers obtain their leverage quickly, as in this case, ĸ is large. [/humor]

My impression is that Jim Breyer has been running the show for a while.

Money has proven to be very effective in bending ethics. Many people would do worse for a fraction of Mr. Zuck's money. I think judging him as a evil exploiter with weak ethics is a little harsh.

> I think judging him as a evil exploiter with weak ethics is a little harsh.

Why? Doing something bad doesn't become OK just because you got paid a lot of money to do it. Indeed, a reasonable definition of ethical behaviour would be doing the right thing even when faced with significant incentives not to.

I have never been forced to choose between becoming a billionaire and holding onto my ethical convictions, and I suspect you haven't either. I'm not comfortable with either of us standing in judgment of someone who has.

I've also never been faced with the decision to torture someone or not, that doesn't stop me from making moral judgement about those actions either. The point of an ethical system is to help you make judgements about decisions, if your answer to every ethical question is, "I've never had to make that decision" your ethical system is useless.

There's a difference between saying "what John did is wrong" and "John is a bad person." I think the OP was saying we should be cautious in making judgments of the second sort.

> There's a difference between saying "what John did is wrong" and "John is a bad person."

I disagree. As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words. If John repeatedly does bad things, then John is a bad person. How are we to judge a person fairly, if not by how they conduct themselves?

we tend to judge people by their actions, not their intent, but ourselves by our intent, not our actions.

that is to say that you sit in harsh judgement of mark zuckerberg only seeing his actions without truly understanding his intentions.


Surely it has to be possible for a good person to do bad things (at least occasionally). I think it would be going a bit far to eliminate the distinction entirely.

>How are we to judge a person fairly, if not by how they conduct themselves?

That is kind of the point. Arguably, you just can't judge people fairly, because you never know what's going on inside. That doesn't mean that you can't criticize people's actions, just that you should be cautious about making more fundamental judgments about their character.

I find myself acknowledging that we all make mistakes for the second time in as many posts...

Sure, someone's moral character isn't a black-and-white question. People aren't really "good" or "bad" in absolute terms, so in a sense calling anyone a "good person" or a "bad person" can only ever be a generalisation based on the balance of what they do.

In this case, however, if someone repeatedly does very bad things, they'd better also be doing even more very good things to make up for it, or I think it's fair to apply the "bad person" label.

The point is that people have an inner life which isn't necessarily reflected in their actions. Someone might do "good" things all the time, but if you could read their thoughts and see their motivations, you might not necessarily consider them to be as good as they appear. Similarly, someone who's done a lot of bad things might not seem so bad if you knew their inner motivations. Actions only give you half the picture (if that).

You also seem to be making a terminological point about when it's ok to apply the term "good person" or "bad person", but that's a red herring. You can use those terms however you like, but it doesn't have anything to do with what I was saying.

I'm perfectly comfortable condemning someone who acts against the ethical principles I and many others believe in, however much they were paid to do so. That's why they're called "principles". It doesn't matter whether it's a schoolboy violating them for a chocolate bar or a multi-gazillionaire CEO doing it for his bonus.

This kind of attitude inevitably leads someone to cynicism and misanthropy: the Milgram experiment suggests that nearly every human being is worthy of moral condemnation under your reasoning, or would be if given nothing more than explicit instructions from an obvious authority figure to do something wrong.

Do we all make mistakes? Of course we do.

Should we be critical of mistakes? Sure, that's how we learn, and constructive criticism helps us to improve.

This doesn't mean we can't also understand that nobody's perfect, and that while to err is human, sometimes so is to forgive. I doubt we would want to live in a world without this counter-balance.

However, intent matters. Doing something wrong by accident is still wrong, but I don't see how it is unethical if there was no understanding or ill will. On the other hand, betraying the trust of millions of people by deliberately taking actions that break earlier promises and violate their privacy over an extended period... Well, I'm sorry, but I don't see how that is an accident, and I will condemn it accordingly.

Money is an effective ethics bender but when the ethics are bent, you still get judged and rightly so.

Does a hitman who kills for a thousand dollars have weaker ethics than a hitman who kills for a million dollars? Would the million-dollar-hitman deserve less jail time?

I'm malicious, so I wouldn't actually delete my account. I'd just gradually falsify all my information. That way they don't get any data mining benefit from my account, in fact, their data collection is being confounded by it. ;)

I am unable to change my name or my birthdate.


You know, in the last day I've changed my mind on this deletion thing. I have my own domain name in the form firstnamelastname.com, and with all the will in the world, Facebook can be such a timewaster. Maybe I should just put up a little contact form on my website so anyone who doesn't have my email/number can contact me and be done with it. I don't want to have to dig through a load of obscure privacy settings every time there's a tweak to the site.

With the possible drawback that anyone who you're connected to thinks that you're becoming a Belgian monk with a goat fetish.

If my friends don't know enough to recognize the blatant falsehoods, they aren't really my friends, now, are they?

For now but in the future, facebook will be the only way to communicate with your friends once they are placed in this little entertainment box with no window and only copyright safe media.

Just add an info text about how it is all not true. Humans will read that but data mining will not.

You do know that they have a complete history of changes to your account?

I closed my FaceBook account because they keep changing the privacy settings. They also made the new settings more complicated than it needed to be and it seems to me that they are trying to trick people into sharing more information than they might want to.

Additionally, I find the Facebook CEO's view on privacy disturbing.

I think the rise of 'free' services and websites presents a set of quite dis-empowering problems for users.

Previously, after buying something, if we were unhappy in anyway we'd always be able to 'vote with our cash'. It was recognised that we deserved to be compensated if our experience of a company fell short.

Modern (free-to-access) sites obviously aren't free, we pay for usage by giving attention (via eyeballs or behaviour). However, this exchange of value isn't as tangible as it once was when we had to pay money for a service.

Maybe moving to a paid-for model might actually be better for consumers / participants - because we'd be able to make more explicit demands?

At the moment we can stop using the service - but the assessment a user makes is probably quite often weighed up against this illusion of 'zero-cost'.

Like the quality of service and customer response you get with paid for cellphone and cable TV services?

Well, maybe I'm in the minority - but when I'm not happy with something I pay for, I make damn sure it gets changed. It takes a bit of effort - and usually involves a bit of time, but it works.

What can we do with a company like Facebook or Google when we're no longer happy?

We can stop using it, and create or support alternatives.

We're used to the cost of a service being its monetary price, or more recently, the demands it makes on our attention. Perhaps a new type of model is being developed in which the price of a service we desire is not in the form of money or attention, but our data. And in this case the way a company uses our data is a real "cost", rather than a mutually beneficial outcome.

I think that threatening to withdraw and withdrawing payment, whether monetary or otherwise, will prove to be a significant balance on the actions of companies. If the changes are significantly detrimental, consumers will take the actions they consider necessary to address those concerns.

Thinking about potential situations which might involve FB users showing discontent, brings striking factory workers to mind.

I suppose when we use FB - we are actually participating in a kind of factory, so perhaps the analogy is apt.

True, we can stop using it.

However, I think this idea presents a false dichotomy. We need other options which don't involve either remaining compliant or quitting.

While we're told we have freedom, because we can exit - we end up investing so much in a service, that quitting becomes very 'expensive' (in terms of human cost). Quitting becomes a unrealistic option for most.

I think the same can be said for Apple's POV re. the iPhone and competition. They like to say that users are free - and that if they're not happy with the way they do business (or change their terms) then they can go elsewhere.

In reality, users have spent a large amount money on their hardware - and are usually locked into 18-24 month phone contracts. The arguments are disingenuous.

Scary story about the Pandora thing. Since I am not an active FB user, I have not yet experienced this brave new world. So hearing such stories about "the Facebook experience" is actually interesting.

I have a FB account to be able to see the occasionally linked page on FB, but the interface was too complicated to me even before all this privacy mess.

Good for you. I deleted mine a little more than a year and a half ago, when rumors started appearing they would change their ToS and privacy policies in a way that would make me uncomfortable using the service.

I've tried to explain to friends why, but the only response I got from them was "I've got nothing to hide". In any case, with cheap/free hosting, I can host my profile page, with information I want to give away.

Some random quote from a comment (slashdot, perhaps?):

"People fail to realise that Google's and Facebook's customers are the advertisers, and the users are in fact the product they sell."

I have never joined facebook, and am thankful for this. But I was suckered into joining linkedin, and when I saw they had uploaded my contacts list from my gmail account, I had to leave.

Still not quite sure how they did that.

As you may know, they send all of your contacts who aren't members messages saying '<person name> invited you to join their network on (linkedin|facebook|twitter)'. Sometimes they even mail to 'remind' you again a month or two later.

I don't think users necessarily realize these messages are being sent ostensibly on their behalf. In my view these large, successful companies are growing their user bases through spam.

I know - I had family members asking me 'what this linkedin thing was'.

That's when I quit.

(I don't remember giving them my password, however the link to send someone an invite is actually a link to send EVERYONE and invite, and apparently that includes the contact list they uploaded (or from my point of view, stole))

You had to have given them your Gmail password at one point. They keep on asking me to do it. (Yeah, right.)

How evil would it be if they tried using your LinkedIn password with your profile's gmail address to access your gmail contacts? Probably 90% of people would have both passwords set to the same thing.

Pretty evil. I wouldn't be too surprised if they did, but that's a shitstorm waiting to happen, and Linkedin is still trying to uphold their 'professional' image.

Personally I don't have my Gmail address as my contact email... but I doubt many people own their TLDs with corresponding mailboxes.

Here's the catch. I have gotten in touch with a lot of old friends via Facebook. That is actually all I use it for - communications with old, non-local friends. I fully admit that my communications with them is sporadic and superficial, but it is better than nothing.

I'm cool with deleting my account - but not at the price of losing contact with many "friends".

Is there a middle ground? Or a replacement service?

Maybe we can build an app to 1) Copy basic Facebook data, 2) Delete the Facebook account, and 3) set you up on a new system that does respect privacy.

The main issue from this and other similar articles about facebook which I've read seems to be the lack of control that users have over how their information is used and who it's given to. I still believe that the solution to all of these problems would be an open source peer-to-peer version of facebook, where you have complete ownership and control over what information you make available and who gets to see it.

Looks nice, but I'm not sure how open source this is. It appears to have an SDK under Apache, but the rest is vague.

This also raises alarm bells:


If there's a version of this which is completely open source and on a plug, I'd buy that as a facebook replacement.

How long before account deletion becomes an event for friends to view? "X is deleting their Facebook account. Tell them to reconsider!"

Never, because they wouldn't want the negative social proof that publishing deletions would cause.

The whole privacy setup was never really about people's privacy -- it was about keeping them locked into Facebook. I think in their bizarre eat-the-world rampage thay've lost sight of this.

Which is fine, because with the new tools they're coming close to the position where an app can get so much data that it'll be possible for a competitor website to allow you to authorise it to import everything from Facebook -- friends list and all.

On that day there'll be a huge opportunity for someone to start a site offering to be what Facebook used to be: a truly private yet still social network.

A few pledges not to ever force you through hoops to try and retain your privacy, to never make your baby pictures public by default, and to never share your data, and there will be more than enough switchers to get the new place up and running.

Can't wait, tbh.

Well, Facebook has to do something to pay for the servers and the programmers.

They're estimating $1B or so in revenue for 2010, that sounds like a lot of money, but that's an ARPU of about $2 or so -- most real businesses do 50 times that.

I don't begrudge them finding some way to get value out of their community, otherwise they'll be a day when they can't afford to run it, or decide to scale it down to something much smaller but much more profitable.

Any alternative offering is going to face the same problems; it's tough to monetize social traffic; I know sites that have incredible user engagements for communities in the 50k user range, but can't scratch together $800 a month to pay for the servers, never mind to pay for anybody's time to develop and maintain the system.

If I had written this post, it would have been titled: Why I never created a facebook account. Anyone who is crying now, should have known better.

FB is ingenious in how it leverages three amazingly powerful forces: Advertisers, individuals' Ego, and Group Psychnology (put more bluntly, herd mentality).

FB and the Advertisers are harvesting value from the herd, day after day. Brilliant (I'm not being facetious....this time).

It is brilliant, but that doesn't make it right. Facebook needs to recalibrate its moral compass. There are a lot of really good people working there, so I don't think it's an untenable problem; facebook hires good people regularly (I don't think I know anyone at facebook that I don't consider a good person, actually). But, there seems to be a disconnect about the badness of chipping away at users privacy for the benefit of advertisers and facebook. Facebook has definitely done enough things to make me mistrust them as a company since I've been a user...so, I don't share a lot with facebook, and I'm moving toward sharing less. My pictures are at flickr, and will remain there, for example.

That graph amuses me. Notice the benefit to users continues to climb, even if the benefit to "facebook and other companies" happens to climb faster. So even though it benefits you more and more, you will deny yourself that benefit because it happens to help facebook too?

Of course, it's just a made-up graph, and his very first sentence implies the line is really trending downward in his opinion, but I'm always intrigued when an instance of the Ultimatum Game happens in real life:


I'm a little bit confused over what appears to be a mass hysteria about privacy problems for Facebook. I guess I really don't mind if Facebook tells company X that I listen to Modest Mouse, or lets advertisers know that I play disc golf.

Facebook is still the best communication tool out there for sharing everything (pictures, videos, messages, etc.). If, in return for using an excellent and free service, Facebook sends out a little bit of trivial information about me then so be it. It's really not that different from AdWords.

Don't you think you should be entitled to earn some of that money that Facebook is making off of your information?

I think that's what pisses me off about FB the most. This entire website was built on the backs of hundreds of millions of eager users. And sure, the users get some benefits (meeting old friends, finding a new job), and some downsides (affairs, posting that picture of you drunk for the boss to see). But all in all, we've all made Zuckerberg a millionaire for doing very little, in the big picture.

"Don't you think you should be entitled to earn some of that money that Facebook is making off of your information?"

Out of curiosity, do you hold AdSense to the same standard? After all, a pixel and a cookie on 70% of websites by hit is being used to infer your interests, location, demographics, and purchasing history, all so ads can be better targeted at you. Why is it more shady for Facebook to do this with information you explicitly provided, under terms that Facebook disclosed, than for Google to do so with 99.9% of the web having no idea it's happening?

Sorry, I forgot: it's not evil when Google does it.

If I'm reading a magazine that has advertisements that is fine. They help cover the costs of production. If I join a club and they sell my information (where I live, who referred me, what actions I perform in the club) to another company that is an entirely different matter.

Tracking via cookies/pixels,etc is getting pretty invasive too. When google does it, it is just as bad. Look at Buzz, have we already forgotten the outrage when it came out?

"If I join a club and they sell my information (where I live, who referred me, what actions I perform in the club) to another company that is an entirely different matter."

I agree, and it has nothing to do with the discussion at hand: facebook does not do this, and never has.

Perhaps I don't understand what they do then? If they sell screen time for advertising and bundle it with my information how is that any different?

Facebook sells targetted advertising: advertisers can direct ads at various demographic groups, like age ranges, genders, and geographic locales. Advertisers do not get any identifying data about users who see or click on their ads as part of the package.

No, actually I hold AdSense and Google to the same standard.

But I also believe people are way less aware of what Google is going with the Adsense click data. They're also blinded by the smörgåsbord of goodies flowing out Mountain View. And maybe to most that's a fair trade. Google is at least giving out free email servers, gigabytes of cloud storage, navigation, docs, etc etc etc.

Except you can opt out when google does it: http://www.google.com/privacy_ads.html

You can opt out on facebook as well; and when you do so, you stay opted out. The above button works on one browser, until you happen to clear cookies.

One of my friend is canceling his FB account this Saturday on similar grounds. http://kumarbhot.blogspot.com/2010/05/decision-to-move-away-... FB is becoming the big brother of Internet day by day.

I left similar sounding comment on the blog above. I wonder why the article's owner removed that comment! Looks like he hasn't accepted any comments. Why enable have 'Leave a reply' if you don't want to accept any comments?

I was asleep when all of these replies came in. And I had it set for me to approve all comments because I had been getting spam. I approved your reply just now.

I like charts that don't have any numerical basis.

You've just arbitrarily illustrated their trend towards fewer privacy restrictions in a way that will certainly sway people to your argument but only represents your sentiments and nothing concrete about the actual situation.

While I agree with your argument, this really bugs me, particularly in dealing with the audience you've chosen to address and the false authority it might lend you to those outside of it.

I also have a personal domain name, and have been rather disgusted with Facebook's changes over the last few years.

I've thought of maybe doing a small redirection, in the style of Class.cpp/ClassImpl.cpp, where my FB profile just says "see my 'real' profile at myname.com," from where I can serve a static page with any information I like.

This way I could still expose whatever data I like, on my terms, and keep all the friend requests I've made.

So you're mad they're basically turning from a free model to a freemium model? The whole "privacy" thing is just ridiculous. When is Facebook's selling of your info ever going to impair on your real life? The information they sell is never going to lead to someone knocking on your door and calling your house. It will impair your visual Facebook surfing experience, at worst. And impair is a strong word.

Flipping out over some weird privacy details is ridiculous. There may be small leaks, but they don't/won't last. Patch it up. Move on. Keep talking to your one-off acquaintances.

We need to be OK with people making money. Facebook provided me (and you) $1000s of dollars in value over the years. I have not given them a dime. Facebook, gladly take 5-10% of your visual mind-share back. You earned it.

This is rubbish. My privacy is important to me because I enjoy it. I enjoy being able to do things/have thoughts/express opinions that are not universally popular. I enjoy not having my interests analyzed by potential employers. I enjoy not having my details handed out to marketers. I enjoy all these things far more than having a free way to keep in contact with one-off acquaintances.

The problem is not at all that they're making money.

The problem is that they've decided to extract value in a way that leaves me no choice about how to pay them. I've certainly gotten plenty of utility out of Facebook, but I'm not willing to pay for it with my privacy! Frankly, I'd much sooner pay for it explicitly, in exchange for a privacy guarantee. (Although, it's debatable how much that guarantee would be worth, given Facebook's history.)

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