Facebook is dead. Everything’s gonna be OK.

Pointing out Facebook slip-ups is like shooting fish in a barrel, except the fish is actually a dead horse. Facebook has replaced Microsoft as the dream target of everyone looking for a good rant on unethical business behaviour. But while Microsoft is like a vampire who can’t ever die, Facebook could easily pull a Hendrix (or worse, a Tony Soprano) any day if it’s not more careful. Read between the lines of recent headlines and ask yourself who will benefit from Facebook’s collapse.

Actually, the newest trend is to defend Facebook and Zuckerberg against seemingly exaggerated bashing… Yes, it’s arguably a waste of time to complain about who should or shouldn’t be able to see your drunken photos, as you already know that it’s never too clever to post them online in the first place. And quoting a 19 years old Zuckerberg writing six years ago: “I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS. People just submitted it. I don’t know why. They ‘trust me’. Dumb fucks.” certainly doesn’t help his character’s reputation, but both Facebook and himself have grown up in the last few years.

Facebook is the Law

As usual, it’s fun to watch everyone barking at the wrong issue, i.e., “Facebook hurting our right to privacy”, while the big picture is being ignored. The problem really isn’t if your information is made private or public, but the fact that Facebook changes the direction of its service as it sees fit. Imagine an online bank suddenly saying “we realized that it makes more business sense for us to publish a top 10 list of our clients’ names on our homepage”. Or a law firm changing their business model by publishing a tabloid magazine. Sure, it’s a bit far-fetched, but while there are industry specific laws to protect customers of banks and law firms, it is commonly accepted that “Facebook is a private company and it’s their right to change anything they want, because users are free to leave” and that “it’s free and has to rely on advertising, so what else would you expect?”

Well, what I would personally expect is that when I join a service, it is clear what it will provide and what it will cost me (in money and/or privacy, for example). I want online business to come with a deal and stick to it. If Facebook wants to compete against MySpace, great. If by doing so it starts competing against Google, good for them. But when Facebook then realizes Twitter is an efficient and scaleable business model, and decides to change from a private “friend to friends” environment into a public “broadcasting” service, something is going wrong business-wise, as well as ethically. Sure, Facebook can do whatever it wants, but no one should be surprised that it creates a backlash, and that trust is being eroded.

Those Who Ignore History…

For years, Facebook has been following the principle of “better to apologize later, than to ask for permission first”, first introducing new invasive features and getting everyone angry, then apologizing about their eagerness to provide the best experience to their users, finally getting away with the implementation of an “opt-out” functionality. And the more confusing the settings become, the more chances users won’t go through the hassle of opting out. Remember how notoriously painful it was to leave AOL a few years back?

There are several examples of this attitude. Probably the most infamous one is Beacon, a part of Facebook’s advertisement system that sent data from external websites to Facebook, to enable posting of targeted advertisements directly to a user’s News Feed. Launched in November 2007, Beacon became the target of a class action lawsuit, and was shut down in September 2009.

September 8, 2006

An Open Letter from Mark Zuckerberg
“We really messed this one up. When we launched News Feed and Mini-Feed we were trying to provide you with a stream of information about your social world. Instead, we did a bad job of explaining what the new features were and an even worse job of giving you control of them.”

December 5, 2007

Thoughts on Beacon
“We’ve made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but we’ve made even more with how we’ve handled them. We simply did a bad job with this release, and I apologize for it.”

Content vs. Revenue

But Facebook’s conflict of interest is not new. For decades, the publishing world has been facing a similar one, always fighting to keep their editorial content independent from advertising. Facebook’s struggle is to stay friendly and safe while monetizing its leader’s position and assets of half a billion users. The more personalized the ads, the higher the revenue, obviously. And since Facebook knows where you go, who your friends are, and what you like, it can serve very efficient advertisement.

This in itself should not be a problem. After all, privacy has been dead for some time already. But because it reached huge proportions, everyone is getting all worked up, big media titles dig up dirt, politicians pay attention, valuable content partners consider breaking free, and early adopters are starting to leave:

March 5, 2010

The Full Story Of How Facebook Was Founded
“They made a mistake haha. They asked me to make it for them. So I’m like delaying it so it won’t be ready until after the facebook thing comes out.”

April 23, 2010

Matt Cutts, head of the webspam team at Google, deletes his account.

April 27, 2010

Senators Call Out Facebook On ‘Instant Personalization’, Other Privacy Issues
Facebook launched a product that has some serious privacy issues: ”Instant Personalization”, which automatically hands over some of your data to certain third-party sites as soon as you visit them, without any action required on your part. (…) And now four Democratic US Senators are calling on Facebook to change its policies.

April 28, 2010

Facebook’s Eroding Privacy Policy: A Timeline
Since its incorporation just over five years ago, Facebook has undergone a remarkable transformation. When it started, it was a private space for communication with a group of your choice. Soon, it transformed into a platform where much of your information is public by default. Today, it has become a platform where you have no choice but to make certain information public, and this public information may be shared by Facebook with its partner websites and used to target ads.

May 3, 2010

Top Ten Reasons You Should Quit Facebook
Let’s start with the basics. Facebook’s Terms Of Service state that not only do they own your data (section 2.1), but if you don’t keep it up to date and accurate (section 4.6), they can terminate your account (section 14). You could argue that the terms are just protecting Facebook’s interests, and are not in practice enforced, but in the context of their other activities, this defense is pretty weak. As you’ll see, there’s no reason to give them the benefit of the doubt. Essentially, they see their customers as unpaid employees for crowd-sourcing ad-targeting data.

May 5, 2010

New Facebook Privacy Complaint Filed with Trade Commission
Today, EPIC and 14 privacy and consumer protection organizations filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, charging that Facebook has engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices in violation of consumer protection law.

May 6, 2010

Peter Rojas, co-founder of Engadget and Gizmodo, deletes his account.

What Happens When You Deactivate Your Facebook Account
Facebook is a big part of millions and millions of peoples’ lives, but what happens when you pull the plug? Last night I met a man who walked to the edge of the cliff and nearly deactivated his Facebook account. He took a screenshot of what he saw after clicking the “deactivate my account” link on his account page – and it is pretty far-out.

The Age Of Facebook: Excerpts From The New Book By David Kirkpatrick
The long awaited book about the first few years of Facebook. The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World

May 7, 2010

Zynga Gunning Up (And Lawyering Up) For War Against Facebook
Facebook is force feeding Facebook Credits as the only payment platform that Zynga and others can use. Facebook takes a massive fee – 30% – for Credits, and the big publishers like Zynga see it as little more than a protection racket. (…) Facebook is trying to get Zynga to agree to a long term deal where Zynga remains primarily on the Facebook platform.

The Evolution of Privacy on Facebook
Infographics of changes in default profile settings over time

Facebook’s Gone Rogue; It’s Time for an Open Alternative
Now, say you you write a public update, saying, “My boss had a crazy great idea for a new product!” Now, you might not know it, but there is a Facebook page for “My Crazy Boss” and because your post had all the right words, your post now shows up on that page. Include the words “FBI” or “CIA,” and you show up on the FBI or CIA page.

May 10, 2010

Growing On Google, People Asking “How Do I Delete My Facebook Account”
I did a “how do I” search on Google to see what was suggested as topics. To my surprise, “How do I delete my Facebook account” was one of the top choices.

May 12, 2010

Facebook Privacy: A Bewildering Tangle of Options
To manage your privacy on Facebook, you will need to navigate through 50 settings with more than 170 options. Facebook says it wants to offer precise controls for sharing on the Internet.

‘Act Now, Apologize Later’: Will Users ‘Friend’ Facebook’s Latest Intrusion on Privacy?
Whatever business models Facebook develops, experts at Wharton suggest that the company may not be invincible in the long run. It’s possible that privacy problems, user backlash and the need to generate revenue will create a toxic stew that erodes trust. “People stay with Facebook because they feel locked in, but they may lose trust over time,” says Matwyshyn. “It could be an ideal time for a competitor to come in and harness that trust deficit.”

The Big Game, Zuckerberg and Overplaying your Hand
You can only screw people for so long before it catches up to you. The entire industry went from rooting for Zuckerberg to hating him and Facebook–in under 18 months.

May 13, 2010

Price of Facebook Privacy? Start Clicking
Facebook’s Privacy Policy is 5,830 words long; the United States Constitution, without any of its amendments, is a concise 4,543 words.

Some quitting Facebook as privacy concerns escalate
In recent weeks more people appear to be deleting their Facebook accounts.

May 14, 2010

Cory Doctorow, author and co-editor of BoingBoing, deletes his account.

Who is leaving?

It takes time before cycles go through to completion of course, and no one is claiming that Facebook will empty out overnight. But cycles do have their way of moving forward, with giants dinosaurs eventually getting replaced by tiny mammals, who in turn will get bigger, you know the story… In this case, the early signs of the cycle moving to its next stage is not what everybody is saying, but rather the fact that everybody is talking about it more and more aggressively. And if it makes sense to look at early adopters to foresee the success of a new site, their departure should make us wonder if a negative trend is not on the way. There are reasons behind a sudden change of climate. Privacy is merely the trigger.

Nobody likes a bully (especially not the other big boys)

Two weeks ago, I participated in a workshop called Leapfrogging Facebook. Why We Should And How We Can, as part of the Lift conference. Participants from all backgrounds, from Vodafone to the W3C discussed together the details of possible alternatives to Facebook, involving — among others — big Telcos (the project is being spun off of Swisscom) who have members, infrastructure and hardware, reputation and trust, but no attractive social networking service to offer.

It makes sense because, clearly, something is happening at a high level, where existing giants don’t really want a newcomer to salvage their private club (and succeed where they failed, then kick them out). They were so used to fight against one another that they didn’t see Facebook becoming the next standard, to steal their leader positions one by one. Nobody necessarily wants to kill Facebook per se, but market leaders understandably want to make sure Zuckerberg plays nice, opens up his cards, and shares with his new friends. Not everyone wants to enter direct confrontation, as shown by the new iPhone OS rumored to include Facebook features natively, but everyone wants to at least piggyback, if possible. Or to create another Facebook, one with multiple heads, one that is so ubiquitous and legitimate that it can’t be challenged anymore, and becomes the new standard, managed and controlled by the “authorities” of the Net.

Tabula Rasa

Keep in mind the big picture: Facebook doesn’t want to “merely” become a portal à la Yahoo! or AOL. Without doubt, Facebook is aiming to become a “unique login” of the Internet, your universal digital ID card. Facebook vs. Google was only the beginning, but imagine when Facebook will get into the Paypal business for instance. And with a growing ecosystem of services using Facebook Connect, helping make your Facebook account the only membership you’ll ever need to use a multitude of sites, from group buying to social games, it’s only natural Facebook is now investing in an internal payment system too.

Example scenario, a few years forward: You just booked plane tickets on XX Airlines through Facebook Connect. You conveniently paid some of the total using your Facebook credits, and Facebook earned an automatic commission percentage on the sale. One of the reasons why the airline promoted login with your Facebook account is so that your identity and payment are guaranteed (the same way credit cards do it today, with lower fraud risks). Another reason is because they can track your loyalty and follow up with Facebook’s optimized Customer Relationship Management system. Google wants this position, Microsoft too, every Telecom company as well, not to mention PayPal/eBay. But by that time, few — if any — will be able to compete against Facebook on number of verified users.

This is why they don’t want to let Facebook grow even bigger anymore. If journalists, geeks, nerds, and other self-proclaimed web philosophers are concerned about privacy, and advocate a new open protocol, it’s a good idea to jump onboard and be part of the new system that will eventually become a plausible challenger to balance Facebook.

The cycles have evolved: it’s not “eat or be eaten” anymore, it’s become “join us or die”.

So, how do I leave Facebook?

It’s actually quite simple:

  1. Go to: http://www.facebook.com/help/contact.php?show_form=delete_account,
  2. Click submit,
  3. Wait two weeks for your account to be deactivated (if you log into Facebook before the end of the two weeks, your deletion request gets cancelled and you’re back in).

But for more dramatic effect, make sure you do it on May 31st.

© 2023 Yves Bennaïm