Today is the last day to have a Facebook account that’s not updated to the new timeline layout. Tomorrow, they automatically update everyone, which requires some work from the users to keep privacy settings the same. This all sounds pretty unimportant on Facebook’s site, but some of the UK tabloids aren’t so sure.
The way this change has come down has made me think a lot about privacy and social media. While there’s no doubt that Facebook has changed the way we communicate forever, I’ve decided to delete my account. I was a heavy Facebook user, but the more I think and read about it, the more I think I need to spend more time thinking about it. Everyone should think about what Facebook is, what they do, and consider deleting yours too. Here’s how. And here’s why I’m doing it:
The reaction over the ‘upgrade’ to timeline isn’t about the timeline feature at all. It’s that when we release any information on Facebook (or any other site, for that matter) it no longer belongs to us. We don’t pay Facebook, and they have to make money somehow. We’re all giving them something much more valuable than money: data.
Facebook is building a future without any explicit right to privacy. It is all very good if that’s what you want, but you have to understand: if you are not buying a product, you are the product. Someone has to pay for data centres, equipment, staff, and you certainly don’t get a company rumoured to be worth $100 Billion dollars providing a free service with no plan for profit. Novelist Charlie Stross has a thoughtful piece about that on his blog, which I encourage you to read. Suffice it to say that your holiday pictures, ‘like’ buttons, status updates, and other self-published data are the richest marketing and intelligence gathering resource the world has ever seen.
And just in case you have a Facebook account but ‘don’t use it’: you don’t have to have an active Facebook account to have privacy concerns. Just having an account someone can ‘tag’ in pictures, and other reports is bad, as well. They will grow a history of you that you have no control over (even though, frankly, you have no control over what Facebook does with the information you give them, anyway).
I have a friend who thinks that being on Facebook is like being pregnant. Since he’s on it now, he thinks that there’s no point in going back. His data ‘isn’t important’ because it’s self-screened, and he ‘can’t get it back anyway.’ Well, maybe, but maybe not. It’s never to late to start thinking about what you’re doing, and perhaps decide to make a change. You can stop giving data away; turning over mass amounts about yourself, be it to Google (think about it: web searches, IM, email, calendar, phone records, and their own social network — they know all about you), Twitter (yes, they can track you in 140 characters — it’s probably actually easier), or Facebook (the most obviously uncaring of the club, and also the most powerful) is probably unwise, but should we try to do something about it?
I am, at least until I’m done thinking about it. The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. You should at least think about what you’re doing, too.