article on Facebook was an interesting read, and I agree on the points he raised about the march of technical progress and the sense of community that a social network can provide. I used to use Facebook myself, but chose to close my account a few years ago. Akin to the evangelisation you'd expect from an ex-smoker, I feel fairly strongly that I've made the correct decision. It's not that I have anything against the idea of a social network. It's Facebook and their practices in particular that agitate me. I would also point out that many of the most vocal critics of Facebook tend to be from computer literate communities, people who generally better understand what could happen to their data.
Starting with one of Mark Zuckerberg's more unfortunate quotes, an alleged messenger exchange with a college friend in 2004 has been widely publicised and shows an early executive's attitudes. 'Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard, just ask. I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS. People just submitted it. I don't know why. They trust me. Dumb f****s.'
Facebook has consistently done as little as possible to protect people's privacy, and done everything it can to get access to as much user data as possible. It obfuscates with overly complex and ever-changing privacy options. Every mobile app installed requires constant access to every conceivable inference of data. Every uploaded picture is scanned for landmarks, branding, and facial recognition. Your location is constantly tracked via any available means. The things you type, the websites you visit, the videos you watch; if you're logged into Facebook in a browser, a surprising amount of internet activity is being constantly recorded. Every webpage that has a Facebook 'like' symbol embedded on the page is collecting usage data about all its visitors for the benefit of Facebook.
Worryingly, this data collection still happens even if you're not logged in to Facebook, or more surprisingly, it occurs even if you don't have an account. Unless you're very careful about browser safety and the use of blocking extensions, Facebook will be collecting data and storing it in 'shadow profiles' about you. By default, a surprising amount of unique computer information can be harvested and used for fingerprinting individual browsers and their users, yet if you don't even have an account you cannot possibly have given consent to this.
If you do have an account, you can choose to download all your Facebook data, but this amounts to nothing other than a copy of the information you've uploaded over time, mostly your status updates and pictures. The data that has been inferred about you, however, remains completely out of sight.
The short of it is that Facebook wants everything. It wants to be your entire interface to the internet. It expects you to access all your news, all your friends, and all your media through its network. The monopolistic grip is truly insidious, and it has no shame in manipulating what it wants you to see. In other places in the world the grip is arguably much tighter; in rural parts of the Philippines almost everything is conducted through Facebook on mobile phones. The catch is simple; mobile data is expensive – apart from Facebook, which is completely free. A great social service perhaps, but no local business can hope to compete unless it conducts its business via Facebook.
All of this data-collecting activity is ostensibly there to allow better targeting of advertisements to you. I'm yet to meet anyone who agrees that targeted adverts are particularly useful to them rather than a hindrance. Yet this is where the real snake oil is – in convincing prospective advertisers to part with their money based on the precision of the targeting available. Facebook make their money by convincing advertisers that they can successfully influence the thoughts of specific groups of users; this alone ought to be enough of a clue that using their services is not necessarily in your own best interests.
They simply don't care whether that influence over you is immoral, inappropriate or divisive. Conveniently this remains the fault of the advertisers themselves, in much the same way that they legally avoid any publishing responsibility for any of the user content that is posted and shared.
Like Alan McIntyre, I want there to a vibrant digital community that is trusted and well-regulated. I'm not a Luddite, and I'm not a member of the 'tin foil hat wearing' paranoid brigade. I just hope that the future brings something better than Facebook. The best way of voting for this is by not using their services, and after deleting my account I have had no moments of regret. In theory, every individual can decide whether the benefits of the service are worth the erosion of privacy; but most people, I would argue, aren't fully aware of the value that Facebook exploits from them.
SR welcomes short pieces in response to SR articles or to current events in general. Send to: Islay@scottishreview.net