Why I’m Joining Facebook Anyway
Let’s be clear; Facebook is evil and epitomizes nearly everything that is bad about the Internet. Yet I joined Facebook in spite of that.
Critical mass, baby… critical mass.
Most of the current Facebook users weren’t around during the early days of the Internet and the glory days of AOL. You may remember AOL as a supplier of free CDs to use as coasters but before that, they were a supplier of free floppy disks! No, seriously, at their peak, AOL was the absolutely dominant player when it came to getting online.
“Online” didn’t mean “the Internet” to AOL. It meant logging into their proprietary “walled garden” with all of their own proprietary content. To see any of this content, you had to be an AOL subscriber. AOL controlled everything inside of their walls. You could sign into any number of chat rooms… but everything you said was monitored and censored by capricious AOL employees. Say the wrong thing and you are banned. Also, maybe you want to chat with a friend? You were out of luck if they weren’t part of AOL, too. Maybe you want to send e-mail. AOL was the king of e-mail… heck, who doesn’t remember the “You’ve Got Mail!” voice. But good luck trying to send or receive email from outside of AOL!
The freedom of the Internet was a revelation in those days. You could go anywhere you liked, do whatever you wanted, e-mailed and chatted with anybody at all. Nobody told you want you could and couldn’t do. Nobody tracked where you went and who you talked to. The Internet allowed people to be individuals, not just monetized data points.
AOL eventually learned all this and started opening up the gates… but it was too little, too late. Slowly, but surely, they went the way of the dodo bird.
So what does this all have to do with Facebook? Facebook is the Anti-Internet in much the say way that AOL was, back in the day. Facebook is the Web 2.0 version of AOL.
Facebook is a “walled garden” every bit as restrictive as AOL was. Try going to facebook.com and viewing any appreciable content without logging in. You can’t! The only way to participate at all is to become a member.
Want to post some pictures so your friends can see them? They better be members. Maybe you want to send a message? Members only. You just got back from a fun trip and post some thoughts on it. Yep… only members can see them.
This requirement to be a member to even view the content on the site is completely opposite of everything else on the Internet. Yes, you need to sign up with YouTube to post a video, but anybody can (and does) view the videos. Want to post pictures to Flicker? Yeah, you’ll need to sign up for that, too… but not to view the pictures. Twitter? Sign up to post but anybody can view.
This way of doing things is the Internet Model. Producing content always requires a site membership but viewing the content never does. Facebook is alone in requiring membership for any part of the process.
Facebook == Anti-Internet.
Privacy is Dead
Yeah, but Facebook is free! What difference does it make that you have to sign up if anybody and everybody can sign up for free?
Ask yourself this; why does Facebook flaunt convention and require everybody to sign in to do anything? Well, the Internet model is great for people but it’s terrible for companies trying to make money off of people. That problem is that it’s just so hard to gather any usable information about the people using every site. So YouTube knows that a person at a specific IP address watched this video and that video… but they don’t know if it was the same person or (and here’s the core part) anything else about that person. Every “hit” on the websites exist in a vacuum.
The ultimate dream is to be able to know everything about the users. What are your likes and dislikes? What stories do you read? What pictures do you view? What videos do you watch? Who are your friends? What do they like? This information is an absolute gold mine!
Gathering up all of that data is nearly impossible over the Internet since everything is so disconnected (not true for Google… but that’s the subject of a different rant). Gathering up this data is precisely what Facebook does.
You may think that you’re safe because only the things you do on facebook.com itself are tracked. Nope. Facebook is reaching out with their Like buttons to embed little mini-trackers all over the place. You click on the Like button and you are instantly tagged as “you” and another bit of your personal history is captured.
Much has been said and written about how Facebook doesn’t honor its users privacy and opens up all this information to ever expanding groups. Yeah, that’s not good… but that’s missing the forest for the trees. The thread of Facebook isn’t that it’ll expose your personal details to other users, it’s that it’ll expose all of your personal details for profit to companies and industries that you don’t know about and have no say in controlling!
This is a topic for its own dedicated rant but I’ll give the Cliff Notes version here. The problem is that all of this personal information about you is getting funneled into databases that you don’t know about but are connecting to each other more and more. The bits of you are used to create a version of you that you can’t control.
I know; this sounds like paranoia or some form of conspiracy theory. It’s not.
The common argument against this is; “Who cares? I don’t have anything to hide. Let them know everything about boring old me.”
Let’s consider a scenario. Last year, I donated some money to the Ron Paul presidential campaign and, as such, I’m now on their roles as a supporter and since donations are all tracked, I’m on the federal databases as a Paul supporter as well. I don’t have any problem with that; I do support the guy and I don’t mind if anybody knows that. But some months after I donated this money, Homeland Security released some memos saying, in part, that potential terrorists tend to be like people that support alternative candidates like Ron Paul. Oops! At the time I donated the money, it was a perfectly innocuous act. Later, this same innocuous act was redefined to put me in the category of “potential terrorist”.
That’s the core problem. What you do may not be considered a bad thing now but you don’t know how it will be viewed in the future. Once you give up your privacy, though, you also give up any control over any of that.
Let’s consider my scenario to a bit of an extreme end. It’s some months later and I buy some fertilizer since we’re planting a garden. That no big deal so who cares that my purchase is tracked, right? Now I’m sitting in a restaurant downtown and doing something on my iPhone. A few blocks away, a bomb goes off!
The police and FBI go into high gear. They subpoena all of the cell records and pinpoint everybody in the immediate vicinity (either via cell triangulation or GPS). I’m on the list. They cross-check that with recent purchases and see my fertilizer purchase; oops, that can be used to build bombs. They do a more in-depth search and see that I’m on the Homeland Security list of potential terrorists. A potential terrorist that just bought bomb making materials is a couple blocks away when a bomb goes off?
See, viewed individually, everything I did was perfectly innocent and had benign explanations. Collating these individual datapoints, though, creates a picture of something far more sinister. I did nothing wrong… but yet I’m now their primary suspect for the bombing.
Yeah, that’s an extreme example and that specific scenario is unlikely to happen. But name any individual part of that that sounds like it couldn’t happen.
Your privacy matters!
What does this have to do with Facebook? Well, maybe you didn’t donate to Ron Paul. But maybe you did Friend somebody who Friended somebody who Friended the Times Square (attempted) Bomber. Your action alone wasn’t much, but taken out of context, it takes on a very different meeting — You are part of a terrorists network!
This wouldn’t really be all that bad if Facebook protected your privacy. But do they? Hell no! In fact, Zuckerberg has been very consistently vocal in his beliefs that privacy has no role in today’s society. Public outcry is going to force them to put on superficial appearances of privacy but fundamentally, since it’s not born into the Facebook DNA, it’ll have no real impact. Bits of you will be captured and it’ll be spread willy-nilly without your knowledge or control.
Yet, Here I Am
Yet here I am, joining Facebook. Joining up with an organization that is trying to destroy so many core principles that I hold so dear. Why would I possibly prostitute my values in such a way?
You’re on Facebook, right? Of course you are. Over two thirds of all Internet users in the US are Facebook members. If you’re my friend or part of my family then I can guarantee that you’re on Facebook since 100% of that group are members.
That’s a problem; not for you, but for me. See, since everybody you know (but me) is on Facebook and it’s so easy to communicate with other Facebook members, you find yourself communicating almost entirely inside of Facebook. You used to send out emails and post pictures and the like, but don’t bother anymore. Why should you? Everybody that knows you is getting all of that on Facebook already so duplicating this just for the few luddites that aren’t on is a waste of time.
So I have a choice. I can choose to live my life free of a company that I abhor but slowly and surely lose touch with people I care about… or I can reconnect with my family and friends and only have to give up part of my soul in doing so.
Seems like a fair trade, right?