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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?

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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 comments

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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

    Mike,

    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”.