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The Chronicles of Facebook the evil (and what can we do about it)

Posted on May 25, 2010 By topicguide Taged: Internet and Websites, Facebookisevil

How big is the Facebook problem, what can we do about it and what are people saying about it? I compiled this rambling report from my web clippings saved in a file titled 'facebook is evil'. The file was getting bigger by the day and so I decided to put it all out before you. I have tried to give some structure to 'facebook is evil' idea. The idea is arranged across 6 sections.

Part 1: Background to the Facebook problem

The Ninth hottest search on Google is "delete facebook account"

Privacy Is Still Important.
Otherwise in these modern, liberated times, we would all be running naked. A commenter says,

Privacy is every bit as dead as courtesy, chivalry, or rock & roll – it's exactly as dead as you make it.


What are the principles under which a social networking site such as Facebook operates?
1. The user has control over how your information is shared.
2. The site does not share your personal information with people or services you don't want.
3. The site does not give advertisers access to your personal information.

However, the reality is different,
Before creating a facebook account, consider this:
1. Facebook must exploit your personal info in order to make the mega bucks that they've grown used to.
2. A Facebook page may make you unemployable.
3. All Facebook privacy safeguards will be circumvented.

The biggest example of how bad Facebook's privacy problem is

A user must change as many as 50 separate settings to make sure she/he is safe from the spam, stalkers and what not. So much for connecting with others.


Facebook's current privacy policy 5,830 words long.
In contrast, the United States Constitution 4,543words long.
In bigger contrast, Facebook's original privacy statement from 2004 was only 1,004 Words long.

As Jaron Lanier says, 'Facebook needs to build a profit with our “friendships.”

I think Facebook may be called the greatest personalized marketing experiment of all time.

If there is such a thing as the Facebook era.
I think it is similar to the AOL era of the mid 90s. Look what happened to AOL's walled garden.

Facebook has 400 million users. How does it make money?
It makes money through demographic targeted advertising.
Facebook also makes about $75m a year from selling "virtual gifts".

Early adopters cannot be trusted later on
Part of the reason why some sites take off while similar others do not is the effect of so-called Early adopters. Robert Scobelizer for example.
To put it mildly, Robert Scobelizer has made a career out of being a professional first adopter. He promotes and promotes a site and then starts abusing it for his benefit until the site puts him on the margins.  For example, during all this hoohah over Facebook's privacy problems, Scobelizer writes a purring letter to Zuckerberg, as if he will be listened.

Why do people continue to use Facebook despite all the problems?
John Naughton says in the Guardian,

Welcome to Metcalfe's Law – the idea that the value of a network increases dramatically the more people belong to it. It's the same phenomenon that keeps people using Microsoft Office – not because they love the software, but because their professional lives would be impossible if they couldn't share Office documents with workmates.

 

It's one of the great ironies of information technology – that the aggregate effect of billions of free choices made by independent agents results in a kind of tyranny imposed by the winner that took all. We first saw it with Microsoft, and then with Google. Is it now Facebook's turn?



Websites use users' data all the time, why is it so bad in case of Facebook?
An article in the Atlantic explains the problem,

With social networks, the problem is worse. A lot of networks include IDs and names in URLs. Using the ID or name, advertisers can easily and automatically scrub a user's public profile for more information, such as a name, photo, date of birth, likes, other interests, friends, etc.


Then the artcile looks at a sample set of user data Facebook sends to advertisers,

GET /clk;203330889;26770264;z;u=ds&sv1=170988623...
Host: ad.doubleclick.net
Referer: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?
id=123456789&ref=name
Cookie: id=2015bdfb9ec||t=1234359834|et=730|cs=7aepmsks


Suggestions? for Facebook?

Because the source of a link may be private information or may reveal an otherwise private information source, it is strongly recommended that the user be able to select whether or not the Referer field is sent.



Some people believe Zuckerberg and Facebook are okay in playing God with users' data.
Tim O'Reilly says that some entreprenuers must be allowed to play god.

... there's enormous advantage for users in giving up some privacy online and that we need to be exploring the boundary conditions...entrepreneurs from Steve Jobs to Mark Zuckerberg are in the business of discovering things that users don't already know that they will want


But, on the other hand, people say that,

If FB really cannot hold up its end of the deal, then it really isn't the social media site that will fill that need. It's positively stupid of Zuckerberg to think he's going to get good data in the long run by betraying his users now.


Whatever Facebook is, Facebook sin't the future.
And reporters must understand this. This is Stowe Boyd's opinion.

Facebook is a utility; utilities get regulated.
That is what noted researcher Danah Boyd says.

Has Facebook stopped growing?
Are people getting spooked by Facebook's intrusions into their lives or are theyr moving onto other sites? This article says that Facebook's Active User Growth has Dropped 25% to 50%

Part 2. How Facebook is Evil

A Hacker can acess your data through Facebook's partners.
Read this article about a security researcher who shows how a hostile website could obtain your Facebook information via Yelp, which is a Facebook partner.

Misuse of your data by Facebook employees: Once, Facebook employees used to have a master password for getting into any user account.
An anonymous Facebook employee reveals this in an interview for a book. 
The employee reveals that the use of this password has been "deprecated," which means discouraged, but some think the master password might still exist and work.

Facebook Knows Who You'll Hook Up With - Facebook will use this knowledge to sell you goods

David Kirkpatrick, in his book 'The Facebook Effect' says that Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's founder analyzes all user data and he can predict breakups with 33% accuracy, calling the odds correctly with about 1 out of 3 couples.


Facebook Secretly Sold Your Identity to Advertisers
Read Facebook's privacy policy, which says that they can provide "any of the non-personally identifiable attributes we have collected" to advertisers. But a new report shows that they actually sent data that can easily be tied to your name.

The Minuses of having just one "one identity" online, that too in someone else's walled garden will eventually obliterate the pluses
Nicholas Carr writes about this "Identity Lock In Problem", using Jaron Lanier's example of one Robert Zimmerman who we now knoe better as Bob Dylan.
His point: Can you invent yourself, forego your past identity and foreg a new one in this age of over-sharing?

Facebook can buy mainstream media covergae for no money
Washington Post Chairman Donald E. Graham is a member of Facebook's board of directors. As a result a press release from Facebook got Op-ed page placement in the Washington Post.

Facebook may actually qualify as malware now - Facebook secretly adds appliactions to your profile.
For examle, you buy something from a site that has links with Facebook, and next thing, Facebook has added the site's application to your profile and you are all set for a lifetime supply of spam.

Birth parents can intrude into lives of adopted children on Facebook


Facebook doesn't like people criticizing it
Gawker writes about the author of Faceboom, a book critical of Facebook, whose account Facebook 'revoked', alongwith accounts of two people involved with the book and its marketing. This happened after the author appeared on a late-night talk show. Also, a group of nearly 30,000 fans of the book was deleted.

What's more, the author could not get answers to why his account was deactivated despite emailing Facebook for nearly a month. After the VentureBeat article, the account was re-activated.


Spammy Social Games: 18 of the top 25 Facebook games have lost significant monthly active users
Most of these are spammy games that will pepper your news feed with massive doses of pointless trivia, and pester you at every corner to invite your friends. The ads bought by game makers like Zygna are the reason Facebook is now profitable. In the past Zygna has been accused by Michael Arrington of Techcrunch of using illegal means to make money off Facebook users.

Soon, Facebook will actively scan your computers
Facebook has tied up with McAfee to provide discounted security services to its members. Users will get a free six-month trial of McAfee Internet Security Suite software and then you pay.

Jason Calacanis has written quite a lot about Facebook's 'Evil Ways'.


A short history of Facebook's Evilry:
This list is from Jason's article:

Facebook’s Eroding Privacy Policy: A Timeline http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2010/04/facebook-timeline
Facebook’s “Evil Interfaces” | Electronic Frontier Foundation http://bit.ly/9ww6g3
Top Ten Reasons You Should Quit Facebook http://gizmodo.com/5530178/top-ten-reasons-you-should-quit-facebook
Yet another Facebook privacy risk: emails Facebook sends leak user IP address http://www.boingboing.net/2010/05/07/yet-another-privacy.html
An Infographic on Facebook’s scary privacy evolution http://mattmckeon.com/facebook-privacy/
Facebook’s “Posts By Everyone” Feature: Do People Realize They’re Sharing To The World? http://selnd.com/96avG4
Senators Call Out Facebook On ‘Instant Personalization’, Other Privacy Issues http://tcrn.ch/907D27
Facebook’s email days: “I’m CEO bith@#$%!” http://bit.ly/ba5wRY
Facebook’s new features secretly add apps to your profile http://bit.ly/bHXpH5
The Day Facebook Stole My Page http://bit.ly/ar4A4As
Facebook is Dying – Social is Not http://bit.ly/atwbzX


Part 3. Mark Zuckerberg is the problem
Eldridge Cleaver said, "If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem."
Some people say Mark Zucekrberg is a totally unreliable person, as simple as that.

Some question the ability of Zuckerberg
Danah Boyd says,

Clearly, Zuckerberg is smart; he has vision. But is there any evidence he's educated? Has he studied privacy, for example?


About the 'evil' ways of Facebook's co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, Jason coins a new phrase, 'You're Zucked'. He explains,

1. FourSquare was Zucked when Facebook stole their check-in feature.
2. Twitter was Zucked when Facebook stole their public facing profiles.
3. Facebook users got Zucked when the site flipped their privacy setting–three different times!
4. The co-founder of Facebook was allegedly Zucked when he was kicked out of the company he helped found.
5. The founders of ConnectU got Zucked when he allegedly screwed them over by not delivering their social network and then launching Facebook at the same time–and joked about it!
6. Harvard reporters reportedly got Zucked when Mark hacked their accounts to try and stop a negative story/investigation about him.


Some people, including this writer are pissed by Facebook's co-founder who acts preachy and 'over-smart' all the time.
For example, Zuckerberg's funny declarations: 'The age of privacy is dead' anyone?

Other say the probelm is: Mark Zuckerberg - He and He alone knows what's right.

He should have said, "We screwed up. We're sorry, we're fixing it, and we won't do it again." Instead we get nonsense about how "The biggest message we have heard recently is that people want easier control over their information."
Um... no, the biggest message you have heard recently is that people don't want you destroying the terms of service they agreed to with unilateral, opt-out changes


Part 4: Quitting Facebook
Some people, like Jason Calacanis have announced they will publicly delete their Facebook account. Jason says,

Simply put, I no longer trust Facebook or Mark Zuckerberg with my information.
http://bit.ly/bATQjU


For some, Facebook has become a waste of time. Jason Calacanis says, "Every minute I put into Facebook is a minute I will never get back. It's time I could have spent writing..."

Others have started their innovative ways of protesting against Facebook's 'Orwellian' ways.
The Facebook Protest Day: Alana Joy has started Facebook Protest site and is asking those who disagree with the changes Facebook has made to it’s privacy policies to commit to not logging in or interacting with Facebook in any way for one whole day.
You can follow @FacebookProtest on Twitter to join the campaign.

That's not all, Alana says,

After this protest I will not be returning to Facebook. However, Facebook should consider setting all users to be in an opt-out setting by default so that opting in is a choice.


Is Facebook the next Friendster?
Alana says in the same interview,

First we thought Friendster was the end all be all, then along came Myspace. Everyone then thought Myspace was “the one” and Facebook came long. I think we need something new, something open… and yet something that provides individuals with ultimate control over what they publicly share.


She also warns against the tactic of big internet companies to harp on their 'open' ways,

There is something I want to make clear: when you hear the term “open web”, please don’t misunderstand what that means. An open web doesn’t mean loss of privacy of your personal information like some people have stated (*cough cough* Scoble *cough cough*). The open web has to do with open source API codes, data portability, etc. It is not only possible but preferable that we maintain control of what personal data gets shared along any lines. To blur the definition of what it means to have an open web is counterproductive and mixing two issues that have nothing to do with each other.


Then there is The 'Quit Facebook Day'
Two Toronto-based people have designated May 31 as the official "Quit Facebook Day."

Gizmodo's Top Ten Reasons You Should Quit Facebook
10. Facebook's Terms Of Service are completely one-sided
9. Facebook's CEO has a documented history of unethical behavior
8. Facebook has flat out declared war on privacy
7. Facebook is pulling a classic bait-and-switch. (At the same time that they're telling developers how to access your data with new APIs, they are relatively quiet about explaining the implications of that to members)
6. Facebook is a bully
5. Even your private data is shared with applications
4. Facebook is not technically competent enough to be trusted
3. Facebook makes it incredibly difficult to truly delete your account
2. Facebook doesn't (really) support the Open Web
1. The Facebook application itself sucks: Facebook is clearly determined to add every feature of every competing social network in an attempt to take over the Web
Read more

Part 5. Open alternatives to Facebook

Read more on this topic: Facebook’s Gone Rogue; It’s Time for an Open Alternative 

Option 1: Dispora
Some people are trying to create a open source, decentralized version of Facebook, called Diaspora.
The New York Times explains,

They have called their project Diaspora and intend to distribute the software free, and to make the code openly available so that other programmers can build on it.
As they describe it, the Diaspora software will let users set up their own personal servers, called seeds, create their own hubs and fully control the information they share.

Mr. Sofaer says that centralized networks like Facebook are not necessary.


However, the problem with making new things like Diaspora work are many. For example:
1. Seeding it will be a probelm: AGain, the cycle of invites, filling in the profiles and so and so forth.
2. Learning curve: Young people will have to learn the idea of nodes.

Option 2: Paid social networking
Will people flock to pay for social networking, because their biggest issue with Facebook was that it was so free?

Option #3: Some suggest the XMPP Microblogging XEP (http://xmpp.org/extensions/xep-0277.html) as a start. XMPP seems to have a lot of the basic features for a distributed social network (buddy list, pubsub, established protocol, etc...)

Notes:
1. Another point about Facebook alternatives is that by the time the alternative gets working, the masses begin to sign up, there will be new technologies that will make the issue irrelevant.

2. Do not forget the average social website interaction for any user: LogIn->Read Status Updates->Talk to Friends->Make Status Update->Upload pictures

This via a comment in Hacker news.
3. What do you do with all the Facebook data after you decide to quit Facebook?
The Data Portability project is a step in that direction.

Part 6. Dealing with Facebook's Privacy Problems

How to delete your Facebook account
The Delete Account Link is something like this https://ssl.facebook.com/help/contact.php?show_form=delete_account&__a=3

The deletion process works along these lines:

- click delete
- put password in
- fill out recaptcha
- confirm delete
- don't login for 14 days


Also Read this article: What Happens When You Deactivate Your Facebook Account

Two Open Source Utilities For Facebook Privacy
Two new online projects will soon scan and edit Facebook privacy settings for maximum protection.
These two new sites areL RecclaimPrivacy http://www.reclaimprivacy.org/ and SaveFace http://www3.untangle.com/saveface.

What are the things you should stop doing on Facebook?
Young people are specially vulberbale on social networking sites. As a policy,
- Don't make yourself searchable.
- Monitor your privacy controls
Read more on Yahoo

Gawker has three great privacy tips for Facebook users
1. Remove your "connections - Opt out of the "connections" Facebook offers you.
2. Uncheck any "connections" you don't want made public.
3. Prune — or utterly nuke — your apps

Gawker also a nice guide to breaking up with people on Facebook. http://gawker.com/5521299/breaking-up-on-facebook-a-users-guide-to-the-most-efficient-way-to-break-a-heart
From the Guide: If you never want to see, communicate with, or contemplate your ex ever again, consider blocking him or her.

Facebook Privacy Guides from Lifehacker
- The best way to protect your private information is to keep it off the internet.
- The best way for new users to sign up for Facebook is to sign up with a disposable email addresses, put only skeletal personal data, and use it only when you want to search something/someone.
- The best way for old Facebook users t protect privacy is to create a new accoun (with disposable email id) and manually trasfer friends list.
- Hide Your Email Address
- Turn Off the Wall on Your Profile

My way to address the Facebook Privacy issue is to use it less and less until it becomes an afterthought. As a habit, I don;t share photos on Facebook. If I were, I would have removed them ASAP.

Finally,

Do users of social networks have any rights?
They have all the rights that the laws of the land will give thme. Additionally, the San Francisco Gate has pubkished a suggested User Bill of Rights.

Users have the right to:
1. Honesty: Tell the truth. Don't make our information public against our will and call it "giving users more control." Call things what they are.
2. Accountability: Keep your word. Honor the deals you make and the expectations they create. If a network asks users to log in, users expect that it's private. Don't get us to populate your network based on one expectation of privacy, and then change the rules once we've connected with 600 friends.
3. Control: Let us decide what to do with our data. Get our permission before you make any changes that make our information less private. We should not have data cross-transmitted to other services without our knowledge. We should always be asked to opt in before a change, rather than being told we have the right to opt out after a change is unilaterally imposed.
4. Transparency: We deserve to know what information is being disclosed and to whom. When there has been a glitch or a leak that involves our information, make sure we know about it.
5. Freedom of movement: If we want to leave your network, let us. If we want to take our data with us, let us do that, too. This will encourage competition through innovation and service, instead of hostage-taking. If we want to delete our data, let us. It's our data.
6. Simple settings: If we want to change something, let us. Use intuitive, standard language. Put settings in logical places. Give us a "maximize privacy settings" button, a and a "delete my account" button.
7. Be treated as a community, not a data set: We join communities because we like them, not "like" them. Advertise to your community if you want. But don't sell our data out from under us.


Related Reading
The 12 Problems with Facebook

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