Monday wasÂ Quit Facebook Day. Organisers claim more than 30,000 people deleted their accounts on the worldâ€™s most popularÂ social network service (SNS), a drop in Facebookâ€™s half-billion-person ocean, but an important symbol.
What did Facebook do wrong?
Theyâ€™ve been playing fast and loose with privacy. Every time Facebook restructures its privacy controls — say whether your photos can be seen by only certain friends, all your friends, friends of friends, or the whole world — the new default settings always open up your private information to more viewers. Check this infographic.
Theyâ€™ve also been caughtÂ sharing private data with advertisers, something they said they wouldnâ€™t do.
Why would Facebook do this?
For the money. With more personal information, advertisers can better target their advertising and Facebook can charge more. They can also charge more for anyone wanting to godata mining.
Who cares? Only exhibitionists put stuff on Facebook for strangers to see.
Not true. One-third of all internet users have a Facebook account. In Australia, itâ€™d be more like half. Facebook is no longer about early adopters. Itâ€™s everyone.
Nor is it about publishing for strangers. People publish personal stuff for friends and family. Many would be horrified to realise others could see it.
Isnâ€™t that peopleâ€™s own fault? Surely they knew the risks?
Perhaps. If Facebook didnâ€™t keep changing the rules. And if you could actually understand those rules.
David Vaile, who heads the Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre at the University of New South Wales, thinksÂ Facebookâ€™s privacy model is “dangerous”.
Fewer than 40,000 quit Facebook. Isnâ€™t Quit Facebook Day a failure?
Losing 0.006% of their user base wonâ€™t affect Facebook directly. But now theyâ€™ve got a serious PR problem. Word is only just starting to spread to the bulk of their users.
What will happen to Facebook now?
Facebook introducedÂ simpler privacy controls last week, but they still require users to take action to preserve their privacy. With all the media attention, US Congress is nowÂ interested.
Facebook wanted to become the worldâ€™s “social utility”, the place where people socialise online. It succeeded. As Microsoft social researcher danah boyd points out,Â utilities get regulated. If Facebook doesnâ€™t clean up its act, it could well be forced to.
However, as boyd saysÂ in another essay, Facebook isnâ€™t going to disappear, at least not in the short to medium term. For many people, the utility of being able to organise their social lives on Facebook still outweighs the privacy fears — and the hassle of having to move everything to another SNS.
boyd reckons the “tech elites” — which, by her framing, includes geeks such as me — should stay and help force Facebook to change.Â ForÂ my part, enough is enough. I donâ€™t do business with a-seholes.
“Move”? There are alternatives to Facebook?
Yes, plenty. But none are popular as Facebook. Youâ€™d have to persuade your friends to move too.
MySpace still has 130 million users, despite rumours of its death. Itâ€™s really only stagnated. Googleâ€™s Orkut has 100 million and is especially popular in Brazil and India. Badoo has 67 million, popular in Europe and Latin America. Hi5 has 60 million. Bebo has 40 million, mostly youth. And thereâ€™sÂ many others.
Thereâ€™s also Diaspora, a brand new privacy-aware open source project to create a new social network framework. Stay tuned.