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Jun 2, 2010

Why Facebook users are quitting, including me

If Facebook doesn’t clean up its act, it could well be forced to. More than 30,000 people deleted their Facebook account on Monday's international Quit Facebook Day. Why?



Monday was  Quit Facebook Day. Organisers claim more than 30,000 people deleted their accounts on the world’s most popular  social network service (SNS), a drop in Facebook’s half-billion-person ocean, but an important symbol.

What did Facebook do wrong?

They’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.

They’ve also been caught  sharing private data with advertisers, something they said they wouldn’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 go data 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, it’d be more like half. Facebook is no longer about early adopters. It’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.

Isn’t that people’s own fault? Surely they knew the risks?

Perhaps. If Facebook didn’t keep changing the rules. And if you could actually understand those rules.

Facebook’s privacy policy runs for 5800 words. When Facebook changes the system, you’re confronted with a request to update your privacy settings — all 50 settings and 170 options. What do most people do? Click “OK”. And Facebook pre-selects “everybody” as the new default exposure. They’re not the actions of company that genuinely cares about privacy.

David Vaile, who heads the Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre at the University of New South Wales, thinks  Facebook’s privacy model is “dangerous”.

Fewer than 40,000 quit Facebook. Isn’t Quit Facebook Day a failure?

Losing 0.006% of their user base won’t affect Facebook directly. But now they’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 introduced  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 now  interested.

Facebook wanted to become the world’s “social utility”, the place where people socialise online. It succeeded. As Microsoft social researcher danah boyd points out,  utilities get regulated. If Facebook doesn’t clean up its act, it could well be forced to.

However, as boyd says  in another essay, Facebook isn’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.  For  my part, enough is enough. I don’t do business with a-seholes.

“Move”? There are alternatives to Facebook?

Yes, plenty. But none are popular as Facebook. You’d have to persuade your friends to move too.

MySpace still has 130 million users, despite rumours of its death. It’s really only stagnated. Google’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 there’s  many others.

There’s also Diaspora, a brand new privacy-aware open source project to create a new social network framework. Stay tuned.


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29 thoughts on “Why Facebook users are quitting, including me

  1. Meski

    Let me guess, Stilgherrian. Diaspora’s motto is ‘do no evil’. Colour me a cynic, but they all start out like that until someone offers to buy for a few billion. In the meantime, fake the unique identifying characteristics of yourself on these sites.

  2. Dave

    Didn’t Google start off with all that “do no evil” crap? I appreciate the stand being made by those who quit Facebook and I wish I had the time and/or energy to do so myself. At the end of the day, I don’t think I could quit Facebook without quitting Google, Twitter because essentially, we sold-out privacy ages ago. It seems quaint how up in arms we were about Microsoft back in the day, “knowing too much”.

    But respect, total respect, for drawing attention to yet another way Corporations take our loyalty for granted.

  3. zut alors

    It is mystifying to me why people feel the need to create a network of ‘friends’, many of whom they will never meet or be able to authenticate. In the overwhelming majority of cases the contacts forged in cyberspace are just that ie: contacts.

    At best they are acquaintances… but they are rarely friends.

  4. Stilgherrian

    Meski and Dave, obviously there’s nothing to stop a project like Diaspora* [yes I forgot the asterisk] going bad at some point down the track. Indeed, if you look at Facebook’s initial privacy settings it all looked quite reasonable. And then they turned.

    Zut Alors, there’s two separate aspects there, I reckon.

    One is the point you make, that the word “friend” has been severely devalued by SNSs. Indeed research by Sophos showed that half of the time people would befriend any random profile if asked — with obvious privacy implications if your profile is open to “friends of friends”. Your friends have just given your details to a random stranger. The other aspect is that people are also trying to create an online mirror of the circle of “real” friends. The SNS’s use of the word “friend” to describe both is possibly another factor in lulling people into a false sense of security.

  5. Jeff Richards

    Look, facebook is lots of fun. If people are stupid enough to leave privacy sensitive material on FB then the deserve to be shat on from a great height. Its a scrapbook of a persons life and interests that your networks, friends, old friends can choose to look at or ignore. All this talk about ‘privacy concerns’ is crap from the aging cohort of people who are excessively preoccupied with ‘civil liberties’. Go and set up a facebook page, dont be stupid enough to put in things that you think might compromise you, and have some fun.

  6. Dave

    Hey Stil. I think it is a given that anything “free” will eventually sour – such is wonderful capitalism system where everything has to be about the bottom line and not just, you know, not being evil.

    Agree with the point of “friends” – it is all starting to sound very 1984.

    But its like, if you can’t beat it, and the regulators can be bought by it… le sigh.

    Laissez faire, telle devrait être la devise de toute puissance publique, depuis que le monde est civilisé … Détestable principe que celui de ne vouloir grandir que par l’abaissement de nos voisins! Il n’y a que la méchanceté et la malignité du coeur de satisfaites dans ce principe, et l’intérêt y est opposé. Laissez faire, morbleu! Laissez faire!!

    There is a point in there I am sure of it.

  7. Mike Jones

    Zut, is it over between us then ?

    Stil, I checked out Facebook and Twitter and formed the opinion that I preferred to have a life. First I sorted out my then teenage kids’ usage of Facebook – pointing out to them the downside – over 3 years ago.

    So, welcome to the ranks of the rational.

  8. zut alors


    Fear not, we are Fellow Dogonauts and that transcends anything Facebook has to offer.

    Frankly, despite the myriad of photos posted by their subscribers I believe a more apt name for the website is Faceless. A perfect paradox.

  9. Doug from Parkdale

    You write about the “privacy implications if your profile is open to ‘friends of friends’. Your friends have just given your details to a random stranger.”
    The point of social media/networking is that, due to the nature of the connection, a friend of a friend is a potential friend, a “random stranger”.
    If not an actual friend, there’s a good chance they will be of like mind/social milieu/interests. That’s why we increasingly put more trust in information distributed by and in reviews of (for example) products or restaurants that come from FoFs.

  10. Doug from Parkdale

    Sorry, second par should read:
    The point of social media/networking is that, due to the nature of the connection, a friend of a friend is a potential friend, NOT a “random stranger”.

  11. zut alors

    @ Doug From Parkdale

    The unfortunate assumption here is that all our friends are destined to get on well. Many of my friends (real ones, not cyberspace ones) have little in common – apart from me.

  12. Doug from Parkdale

    That probably says more about you than about social media/networking. Perhaps you’re a bit of a Zelig. 😉

  13. Stilgherrian

    Jeff Richards, I may be in some “ageing cohort”, but I’m not worried about privacy online in and of itself. Heck, of everyone in this conversation so far I probably have the most personal stuff online. Facebook’s crime is moving the goalposts and, in my opinion, being quite dishonest when it comes to explaining the implications.

    Mike Jones, I reckon you’re making the mistake of assuming that online connections are somehow less valid than those offline, that only offline is “a life”. When you talk to your mother, whether face-to-face, on the phone, on Skype, via email or by sharing family photos on Facebook, she’s still your mother. The connection is what’s important, not the medium through which it happens.

    A couple of people are picking up on the “friend of a friend”. People look at that and think that a FoaF is someone a friend — that is, a person you’ve grow to know and trust — would bring along to a dinner party. With the diluted meaning of “friend”, it really just does mean a random person. danah boyd — or at least I think it was her — relates the story of a teenage girl who was horrified to discover that her FoaFs on Facebook included her mother.

  14. Doug from Parkdale

    Having your mother as a FoaF … That’d presumably make her not a “random stranger”.

  15. zut alors

    @ Stilgherrian

    I am interested in your comments to Mike Jones about whether online connections are less valid than offline ones. And I disagree.

    I know of more than one case where people choose to send an email to someone to keep them at arm’s length – rather than, for example, visit them or telephone. The type of connection is crucial in establishing the true quality of a relationship.

  16. Frank Campbell

    Facebook: never have so many said so little to so many.

  17. Daniel

    Hey Frank that comment is short enough to be a Tweet. Interesting.

  18. Stilgherrian

    Zut Alors, I’m not sure we’re talking about the same thing. I agree that we can use our choice of medium to distance someone — send them an email rather than visit to keep them at bay. But that’s reinforcing an existing status. Maybe “online connection” is wrong, or confusing.

    Without a doubt it’s a richer experience to interact with someone face-to-face that just make a phone call — hence why the airlines still make money in the face of video conferencing. Maybe that just means someone can become a close friend faster if it’s face to face, rather than unfolding slowly through a series of emails, like “pen friends” of old?

    I guess my point is that a close friend is a close friend, a mother is a mother, no matter how we’re currently communicating with them. Certainly many people do build a circle of “friends” online that aren’t particularly close — “loose ties” they’re called in the trade. But I want to challenge the idea — not that you were expressing it — that online communication is somehow second-class. There’s plenty of grandmothers creating wonderful new family bonds by swapping photos with the grandkids online.

    Frank Campbell, pretty much every time someone writes about social media or social networking, someone imagines they’ll look clever, that they’ll position themselves as being superior to the great unwashed using the internet, if they make some lame sarcastic comment denigrating the entire medium. Congratulations, you’re the first on this thread. What took you so long?

  19. Frank Campbell

    what a long-winded put-down. You inadvertently make my point- it’s quality that counts, not volume. In your case, turgid prose.

    As for the “great unwashed using the internet”, I live by the internet and have done since 1993. It had barely started then. Just a few geeks and academics.

    Current fads like Facebook and Twitter reflect a kind of infantile communication diarrhea. They’ll probably evolve into something less fatuous. Whatever, the sociological obtuseness of most comment re the internet reflects a wider intellectual malaise. But that’s another story.

  20. Meski

    One (short) paragraph is long-winded and turgid? Well, perhaps, but only by the inane standards of twitter. If you want to see long-winded and turgid, head over to some of the other forums and check out ‘but seriously’

  21. Stilgherrian

    Frank Campbell, I reckon you’re completely wrong when you say “fads like Facebook and Twitter reflect a kind of infantile communication diarrhea”. For the people involved, this not-relevant-to-you-and-me communication is the grooming which keeps the social bonds between them alive. I forget offhand what sociologists call it, but it’s important stuff.

    All that’s happening now is that this pre-existing communication is taking place in a way which allows other people to see it after the fact. It’s just the world’s gossip and water cooler conversation made visible. And we’re not used to seeing this stuff written down.

  22. David

    I am a school teacher among other things and have always been wary of Facebook. Many teachers over the years have been trashed on Facebook by disgruntled students out for a bit of character assasination. Facebook usually makes the right noises about protecting privacy on so on, blah blah blah, but its only words and the organisation couldnh’t care less about reputation destrictionm and worse. The CEO of Facebook and his millionaire mates only care about shovelling in more money and hang the consequences.
    The privacy settings are so arcane as to almost useless and this is a foil to cover for extensive data mining and mind blowing breach of trust.
    The Internet giants like Youtube and Facebook think its all rather a joke even when people get hurt and worse. Internet surfers should be awake to what is being done in the name of “freedon of information” and the rest of the bollocks that is fed to the public as artful spin. People should vote with their feet and walk, that might make the baby faced billionaires sit up and take notice but it will take a widespread protest to get through light years of ignorance and double -talk . I say forget Facebook its a snake pit.

  23. Justin

    Stilgherrian: what Frank tediously refers to as “infantile communication diarrhea” is known as phatic communion, and it is really really important.

  24. Frank Campbell

    Justin/Stilg: Amazing how a piece of jargon can impart pomposity to bugger-all: “phatic communion”, aka small-talk. Of course small talk has an anthropological function- face to face. The Poms lubricate their entire lives with it, sliding from one reluctant encounter to another (known from this point on as Phatic Meteorology)….Australian men have a complex ritual of bum-sniffing and rank ordering, conducted deftly with a handful of tripthongs (yeaaah maaaate, etc)

    The point about facebook is that it is neither face nor book. It’s ersatz small-talk, but more an egoistic assertion of the uniqueness and importance of the ordinary person. Doomed to failure, because in this format the individual is neither unique nor important.

    Twitter is based on the same illusions, but worse because it invites one to waste time actively following/retailing daily trivia.

    Stig goes: “For the people involved, this not-relevant-to-you-and-me communication is the grooming which keeps the social bonds between them alive.” and
    “It’s just the world’s gossip and water cooler conversation made visible. And we’re not used to seeing this stuff written down.”

    There are two separate alleged functions of ‘social media’ here: bum-sniffing and “gossip”. If between actual social groups, it’s just virtual sniffing. More of the same. Excessive social lubricant. If between virtual “groups”, it’s phony, since there’s no actual relationship to service. Of course virtual relationships may evolve into any other type, but few do.

    As for “gossip”, this may or may not be relevant to anyone else. Depends what it is.

    As for “we’re not used to seeing this stuff written”, of course we are! Letters and emails. What we’re not used to is making it public. And because it is inherently trivial and group-specific, it’s just inane to the rest of us. Unless you’re doing a PhD on social media.

  25. Meski

    @David: I really hope you’re not involved in teaching anything involved with spelling, punctuation or grammar, or our students of the future are doomed to be less literate than yourself. Which is really saying something.

    Getting your reputation trashed on Facebook has little to do with privacy, more to do with right of reply and anonymity issues.

  26. David

    Meski thanks for the compliment. Calling me illiterate is funny considering I am getting a novel published in the UK (Crime/thriller genre) this year called “London’s Falling”. Looks like you are the kind of trash talking Facebook lover that gums up the Internet with BS so we might as well stop the name calling right now. Seriously Facebook is a booby trap for those who want make friends even if the so-called friends might turn out to be less than that.

  27. Meski

    @David – Just run a spelling grammar checker over your post. If you don’t find less than five spelling, punctuation and grammar errors, I’ll eat my hat. My comment about your literacy was in no way intended to be funny. Unfortunately, writing novels (and getting them published) no longer requires literacy. The number of errors in many of them make me wince. I probably log onto Facebook less than most, usually only when I get emails from Facebook asking me to confirm ‘friends’ If you’re getting your novel published in eBook I might come across it. Yes, Facebook is a booby-trap. Avoid putting identifying information on it.

  28. David

    Alright I suppose you might have me there, I do sometimes overlook that spell check. Still you come across a little bit judgemental, but yes, an English teacher needs to pay attention to this stuff no question. My novel will be available on Amazon.com from August 1 (Caffeine Nights Publications) but will also be in bookshops in the UK.

  29. Michael Hidden

    How do I post this to facebook?


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