Facebook has revealed itself as the BP of social networking. According to McQuaid its only a matter of time before their oil – our personal data – springs a leak. In many senses it already has. Facebook surfaces data that makes you vulnerable to stalkers, identity thieves, and employers with a big brother complex. Facebook’s troubled CEO hasn’t exactly been helping his company out PR wise: calling some who trusted him with their personal information “dumb fucks”.
Yet at the same time, a call to quit Facebook on May 31st has a mere 3000 signers, a splash in the bucket when it comes to Facebook’s millions of users. The alternative to Facebook, Diaspora, faces a number of logistical hurdles to truly become a viable competitor. This creates a situation in which the reason many of us are on Facebook – “all our friends and family are there” – keeps us from going elsewhere. Yet at the same time we have an urge not to support a company that has lured users in with false promises of safety and privacy, only to display a massive amount of greediness in their rush to exploit the information we’ve trusted them with. After all, we are simply their users, their natural resource. Their customers are the advertisers.
With that in mind, I’d like to suggest a course of action that can send a message to Facebook, protect your data, and preserve your account to keep using Facebook in a way you find valuable: Delete or Lock Down all of your data.
Why Keep Your Facebook Account?
Any number of reasons. Maybe its an easy way for you to keep in touch with people. I find I use it to keep in touch with friends who are no longer neighbors, to plan events, and to share pictures and links. The point is you’ve decided to have your facecake and eat it privately too. (Though if you want to quit, more power to you!)
Deleting Your Data
This is the best way to protect yourself. Start with your profile. Delete anything risky like an address, birthdate, phone number or alternate means of contact. If someone wants to skype you, and they don’t already have that info, they can send you a message. Next, delete your likes, activities, musical preferences, etc. Delete as many pages as you can, keep only the bare minimum. ALL of this data is used to refine the demographic your age, race, location and gender place you into. Movie preferences make it easier for the entertainment sector to target you in their advertising. Deleting this information cuts at Facebook’s value to advertisers.
Take a look at your pictures. How many of them could be moved to flickr?
Now for the big one: applications. Applications present one of the largest, least understood security risks on Facebook. Like that farm game? Hope you also like sharing ALL of your private data with them. Imagine your entire profile without any security or privacy controls. That is what applications have access to. So unless that app is from a trustworthy source and absolutely necessary, delete it.
Locking Your Data Down
Keeping images on Facebook? Have an email address associated with the account? Restrict who can see it to Friends Only. Remove yourself from the public search listing. This is a big one, as without it your facebook page shows up in google! Keep in mind when someone sees your facebook page any liked musicians, politicians, religious or political groups etc shows up on that profile, along with your profile picture, regardless of your privacy settings. (Hence deleting as much as you can is your best bet for privacy). Removing yourself from the public listing goes a long way in mitigating that vulnerability.
Check out tips and tricks for locking down Facebook (new and old). Facebook is so frequent and arbitrary about how they change their privacy settings, that the best advice I can give is every few months google “Facebook and Privacy” and look for up to date tips. With Facebook, today’s locked down private data is tomorrow’s public data bonanza for advertisers.
Spread the Word
The more people remove the very data Facebook is after from their accounts, the stronger the message we send Facebook: “Hey, your user base is savvy to your goals and won’t let you exploit us”. Advertising and social networking can work together. The problem Facebook faces is a fundamental failure to grasp that trust and consent must figure prominently in such a scheme.
In Zuckerberg’s words, we are all currently dumb fucks for trusting his company with our privacy. Let’s send a message that the trust is no longer there.