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Farewell to Facebook, at least for now

Surveillance

My friends think I'm crazy ... overreacting. I've gone and done it, though.

I've deactivated my Facebook account.

My privacy settings were set to be as restrictive as Facebook allows, and I still didn't feel comfortable with it. Not because I have anything to hide, but because I don't trust Facebook to not use my information (and that of my friends) for evil, or even to adequately protect it.

What's the big deal? Like me, you might be thinking, "I have nothing to hide. Who cares if Facebook collects personal information and sells it?" That's a fair statement; pretty much every large company we do business with today does that. The problem here is that Facebook tells us that we can trust it, but then it repeatedly changes the rules on us to suit its own needs. Facebook is within its legal rights to do this, but that doesn't make it right.

I have a friend whose identity was stolen a few weeks ago via a Facebook exploit, and he's in a living hell now. Facebook's new Instant Personalization pilot is so controversial that it's being debated on the floor of the US Senate, and the latest change -- switching your interests to keyword links that you have to individually opt out of -- is a completely transparent user-hostile move. A few months ago, Facebook changed the privacy defaults to be completely public (in other words, not at all private) and pitched it as an improvement to their privacy controls. In fact, those privacy controls are so convoluted (and it's hard to imagine that it isn't intentional) that even when you think you've got it locked down, there's a good chance that your friends don't, and they could be sharing information about you.

Google's mission statement is to "organize the world's information," and their motto is, "Don't be evil." What's Facebook's mission? Where do they stand on being evil?

Actually, we know Facebook's mission statement: "Facebook's mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected." Of course, back in 2008, it was: "Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life." It's certainly not "to be the best place in the world to connect and share with friends and family," even though that's what Elliot Schrage, vice president for public policy at Facebook, claimed it is in a recent New York Times article.

Though Mr. Schrage points people to view his Facebook profile and compare it with Mark Zuckerberg's, at the time writing his profile comes up as a missing page. What happened, Elliot, share a little too much information, maybe? If you need to get a better understanding of your privacy policies, check out this info graphic in the New York Times that shows the more than 170 possible options you can set.

Given the changes Facebook has made over the past couple of years, what new surprises do the folks there have in store for us? Clearly Facebook feels the power of having such a dominant online community. As they say, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

So, yeah, I'm taking a break from Facebook for a while. First, I want to see if it's possible to live without the big FB. Then I'll decide whether it's a good idea to live with it. I already know which way I'm leaning.

Of course, even if I do decide to completely delete my Facebook account, Facebook will keep my personal data and continue to mine it.

I don't expect anyone to follow my lead. I do, however, urge you to think about whether you think Facebook is deserving of our trust. Is Facebook a good steward of our online (and increasingly offline) identities and information?

If Facebook was a person, it would be one who can't keep a secret and talks about you behind your back.

Would you stay friends with a person like that?

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Tags: absolute power, AbsolutePower, data, facebook, friend, information, online communities, OnlineCommunities, personalization, privacy, privacy controls, privacy settings, PrivacyControls, PrivacySettings, security, social network, SocialNetwork

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