/ data

Farewell, Facebook

On Monday, I deleted my Facebook account. A day before I hit the button, I posted a note letting people know where they could find me online if they wanted, and promising more of an explanation: here it is.

I’m a control freak. I run my own web servers, mail server, IRC server, CI server, SVN server, so I have control. If I could afford the colocation, I’d run them on my own hardware. Hell, if I could afford the bandwidth, I’d install a rack in my closet.

But most importantly, I want control of the data. My data.

Facebook recently made two changes to their service that signal a significant and frightening shift in their position on data—specifically who owns and has control over data. They automatically linked interests to public pages, and they introduced “Social Plugins and Instant Personalization.”

Until now, even if I decided to be permissive with my data, I still felt like I was in control of them on Facebook. With the new “connections” feature, as the EFF says, “Facebook users now face a Hobson’s choice between the new Connections and no listed interests at all.” I no longer have the option to share my data with the subset of people I know: either I share them with everyone, in particular advertisers, or I don’t post data at all.

I mention advertisers because they are most likely consumer of the vast quantities of aggregate data Facebook is creating with the new connections feature. Surely no individual will gain anything from knowing that several million people share their interest in Lady Gaga.

And until now, I had the ability to whitelist the applications with which I shared data. I routinely hit a wall as I browsed my friends’ activity, where I would be asked to choose between sharing my data with an application or not seeing its content. More often than not, I chose not to share, and live without the content.

This makes three things about the Instant Personalization onerous: the presumptive sharing with third parties; the shift to a blacklist, where I must specifically opt out; and the willingness to share data even if I have opted out in general.

  • Facebook has decided that Yelp, Microsoft’s Docs.com, and Pandora should have access to my data. I was not part of that decision.
  • If I opt out and turn off Instant Personalization, Facebook will still share my data with these third parties, if my friends choose to use their services. Again, I am not part of that decision.
  • In order to prevent Facebook from sharing my data with them, I have to manually block each application. That’s annoying, but manageable when it’s just three applications, but it’s not scalable.

This is all scary. Facebook could not have made these changes if they honestly believed that I own my data, and they have access with my permission. These changes indicate that Facebook believes they own my data, and will do with them what they please, unless I go out of my way to ask them not to.

I’ve always had mixed feelings about the protest groups that form on Facebook after every major change. Sure, Facebook staff are more likely to notice a Facebook group with 100,000 members than 100,000 individual blog posts, but in our socio-economic system, the real way to signal displeasure to a business is to stop using that business—the online equivalent of “voting with your wallet.”

So, like a few others, I’m taking my data and going home.

I’m willing to share my data with Facebook as long as I ultimately feel in control. It’s possible that I’ll come back to Facebook if they’re willing to not only fix these particular issues but also make it clear that I am ultimately in control of my own data. That doesn’t seem likely.

What do you think about Facebook, these changes, and your data? Let me know in the comments.

Facebook served as an aggregator of my activity online, and now all those aggregated feeds are alone and disparate again. I’m looking at turning jamessocol.com into a lifestream/aggregator to make up for it. I looked at Planet Venus but wasn’t thrilled with it. If you know of any cool software for that, let me know. Otherwise I’ll write something and play with things like Redis, Node.js, Tornado, and/or other neat stuff.

And yes, I know Tornado is from Facebook.