Why I Left Facebook

On April 11 I deleted my Facebook account.

Well, I asked Facebook to delete my account. I think they have since it’s been 14 days. Of course, if I try to log in to make sure and they haven’t yet, it will reactivate my account.

We have to request to have our data deleted. This is where we are. This is the position we have allowed ourselves to be put in.

I’ve blogged about my ambivalence toward Facebook several times. But the last straw came a couple of weeks ago:

Facebook has asked several major U.S. hospitals to share anonymized data about their patients, such as illnesses and prescription info, for a proposed research project. Facebook was intending to match it up with user data it had collected, and help the hospitals figure out which patients might need special care or treatment.

There’s no justification for this, and I refuse to contribute anything to a company that pursued this program.

If you’re still using Facebook, keep this in mind; you are contributing to their success. Facebook is worth billions because they have convinced people to give them personal information, and the markets expect them to continue finding new ways to turn that information into money. Sharing data with hospitals has been put on pause, only because of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

If you followed my instructions for locking the data Facebook has on you here and here you may have noticed that Facebook is collecting a lot more than the links, photos, and statuses you share on their site. They’re not satisfied with that. They are using cookies and arrangements with other sites to track you. Every site you visit with a “like” button on it is reporting back to Facebook about you, whether you click the like button or not.

The only way to opt out is to leave.

Meanwhile, the feckless empty suits that humiliated themselves in front of Zuckerberg have made it abundantly clear that we will receive no worthwhile relief from the government. Relying on the government to help you has never been a very good strategy in the U.S, but the combination of who is in charge right now, combined with how “complicated” people think this situation is (it’s really not,) means no help is coming.

Vote with your feet.

There are people that I was only able to keep in touch with via Facebook. I’ll miss that, but I just couldn’t be a part of a system that is so obviously designed to profit off of its users and to be honest, I don’t think the jury is out anymore with regards to Facebook’s effect on society. It’s a net negative.

When it comes time to try to market my fiction, not having a Facebook account will put me at a disadvantage. So be it.

I’m still on Twitter. While Twitter’s benefit to society is at least as questionable as Facebook’s, I find it pretty easy to use lists to find interesting people to follow while avoiding trolls. And why they display ads, they are much less ambitious when it comes to spying on their users.

Reach out for me there.

 

How To Protect Yourself From the Next Cambridge Analytica (Maybe) Part Deux

I saw another article about locking down your privacy settings on Facebook. It was full of ads and written in the form of obnoxious slides, so I made my own version.

This is the story that won’t go away, or at least it must feel that way if your name is Zuckerberg or Sandberg. One interesting twist is the “story” that much of the Fox News/Blame Obama wing of the media have jumped on.

Tu Quoque

This one takes the form of “Well, Obama did it too!” and “The Liberal Media Thought It Was Great When Obama Did That!” This is, of course, the appeal to hypocrisy. It’s a long-revered and quite overused defense.

It’s difficult to see the point here. Who’s being hypocritical? Does the fact that other people mined Facebook mean it’s a nothing story?

The Obama campaign did use data from Facebook.

“We ingested the entire U.S. social graph,” Davidsen said in an interview. “We would ask permission to basically scrape your profile, and also scrape your friends, basically anything that was available to scrape. We scraped it all(Emphasis added)”

Carol Davidsen was the director of data integration and media analytics for Obama for America in 2011. “The entire U.S. social graph” means everything available from every Facebook user in the U.S. It sounds like hyperbole to me, but the point is that she thinks “scraping” it is both acceptable and desirable.

The difference here is “We would ask permission to basically scrape your profile…” They asked. That’s pretty much the opposite of how Cambridge Analytica did it.

But either way, there’s something worth noting: everyone does do it. They scraped it all. If you have a problem with people taking your data, you have a problem with everyone running for office.

But My Guy Didn’t Really Quoque!

Another popular refrain is “but Trump didn’t really use the data!”

Yeah, he didn’t collude with Facebook. So let’s just forget about it, right? Go back to your cat pictures.

Your Advertising Preferences

Let’s get to the important bits.

Go here. That should open in a new tab. Click on “Your Information.”

Click all those things off.

Click on “Ad Settings.”

 

Click on “Ads based on your use of websites and apps.” This doesn’t really seem to be related to how Facebook shares your data, but it can cut back some of the creepiness factor when on the site.

 

Turn this one off.

Now “Ads on apps and websites off of the Facebook Companies.”

Flip that guy to “No!”

And now for a really creepy one; “Ads with your social actions.” Read what this one controls. Ugh!


Just say “No One.”

While you’re here you can poke around the section on the top labeled “Your Interests.” You can see what Facebook thinks you like and remove some stuff you really don’t. (What is up with the icon for Movies???? Yeesh.)

So if I wanted to remove IFLS (I don’t) I would mouse over and click the X.

That should help a bit. Have a good Thursday.

 

How To Protect Yourself From the Next Cambridge Analytica (Maybe)

So how about that Facebook thing, huh? How can you protect yourself?

There are a couple of things you can do to prevent, or at least hamper, the next Cambridge Analytica. (Of course, the next 10 or 13 Cambridge Analyticas have already struck and already have your stuff, but you know what I mean.)

Before I give you specific instructions, let’s go over a few points.

Stop Calling It a “Breach”

When this story broke Sunday (even though it’s really old news, but I digress) new readers repeatedly called it a “data breach,” while techie folks and most of the techie press kept correcting them. This is because it’s not a fine point.

Facebook didn’t suspend CA and its parent company for “stealing” data. They suspended them for misusing it. For lying about why they wanted it. They’re not upset with them taking the data. They’re upset with lying about why they took it.

It’s Gonna Happen Again, And No One Cares

If Zuckerberg and Sandberg ever come out of hiding, they’ll make promises. Empty promises. Senators and Congresspeople will make bold statements. Dianne Feinstein, one of Silicon Valley’s Senators, will demonstrate her inability to grasp the fundamentals of well, our Universe, and nothing will change.

Collecting and selling this data is Facebook’s business, and another story that’s been drowned out, for the most part, makes this crystal clear. Facebook’s Chief information security officer is quitting over a disagreement over how Facebook handles these issuesand his department, which has already been cut from 120 people to 3, is being eliminated.

He has been overseeing the transfer of his security team to Facebook’s product and infrastructure divisions. (emphasis added) His group, which once had 120 people, now has three, the current and former employees said.

Taking a department, breaking it up, and distributing its responsibilities across the departments it used to oversee means its less important, not more. Anything Facebook promises about dealing with misuse of information or use of misinformation is bullshit.

All of the mechanisms used by CA were permitted by Facebook’s system. Many of them have since been disabled; only after Facebook was pressured by users and the government.

If a Product Is Free…You Know The Deal

You are the product on Facebook, Twitter, Google, and everything else free on the Internet. The philanthropists have left the building.

Google at least gives you tools to run a business and find damn near anything on the ‘net. It doesn’t make them any less evil (I mean, they even scrapped the “Don’t Be Evil” sham a while back) and I don’t even use them as my default search engine anymore, but the transaction is clear. “Use us to process information, and we’ll collect it.”

What does Facebook give you? A way to communicate trivial things. Poorly.

If you have something to sell, it is pretty useful. Of course, you have to pay for that part.

So What Can I Do?

Short of no longer using FB, which I am not even doing myself yet, do this:

      1. Go to Settings.
      2. Go to privacy and make it look like this. (Click to embiggen.)
        • Only friends can see your posts.
        • Stuff you are tagged in has to be reviewed by you. (Facebook will let you know.)
        • Only you can see your friends list. (This is important.)
        • Only friends can use your email address and your phone number to find you.
        • Your Facebook profile is not visible outside of Facebook.

     

    1. Go to Apps.
    2. Click on “App Others Use” and get very angry at Facebook. This where you can control what your friends share about you with other apps. Check out those default settings. Then make it look like mine.
    3. Extra Credit: disable Apps, Websites, and Plugins. If you want to be totally locked down, disable this feature. You may find it makes it impossible for you to use your Facebook profile to log into other websites. You shouldn’t do that. Your call.

That’s about all you can do, short of giving up on social media altogether. I’m close myself, but not there yet.

Stayed tuned. This blog is alive again.

The Culture of Interruption

You’re finally making some progress on that thing that you owe that person on that date. Maybe you’ve got headphones on with music that helps you focus, or maybe you prefer to work in total silence. You’ve been putting off this particularly complicated part of the thing, but now you’ve got a handle on it.

And then your phone beeps with a text message. Or Facebook message. (Or facebook ‘like’ if you’re masochistic enough to let them notify you of those.) Or Snapchat.

Or you receive a pop-up from that instant messenger app that your team uses.

Or your computer helpfully notifies you of a new email with a little flag up in the corner of the screen, just big enough to break your concentration.

This is what the Internet, breaker-of-chains, mother of communication, queen of all things good, has made us. Punch drunk monkeys pushing buttons and hoping to douse a light and get a peanut.

Keeping up with notifications.

It’s easy to rage at the technology (and Apple’s sad implementation of notifications on both IOS and MacOS does deserve a good drubbing.)

But we asked for this.

Where does Facebook get the idea that they could nag us about enabling notifications every time we opened their messenger app on our phone until we did (or until I deleted the app in my case?)

Why does Amazon think that it’s acceptable to ask me to let them notify me from the IOS Kindle app every third or fourth time I run it?

Where does a website with a name as pathetic as “9 to 5 Mac” Get the idea that I want them to send me alerts on my web browser?

When Pigs Fly

Facebook thinks they are the center of the universe because for many people they are. (They’re getting into the TV business and some people actually think it’s a good idea! They want to get their entertainment from the people who brought you Farmville!)

So what do we do?

Manoush Zomorodi has an idea. Get bored:

 

“The only people that refer to their customers as users are drug dealers and technologists.”

Where are we going to end up if we don’t change direction? Jean Twenge, a Psychology Professor, calls it a mental health crisis. When I first came across the article I thought it was hyperbole, but after reading it, I am genuinely afraid.

Turn off your notifications. Delete some apps. Sell your attention for a higher price.

 

Giving It All Away 

“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”Eric Schmidt

I finished Deep Work by Cal Newport last week and started The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to our Brains by Nick Carr over the weekend, so I’ve got the hows, whys, and wherefores of Facebook and Twitter on my mind. There’s a good chance I will be inflictingsharing some of these thoughts with you over the next few weeks. The books are about the longer term neurological effects social media makes has our brains, but as I step away and evaluate what I do and do not get from them, I see more.

Facebook is the place for many things; fighting with friends over politics, fighting with “friends” over politics, laughing at pictures of cats, laughing at pictures of “friend’s” cats, etc.

It’s also the place where Facebook wants you to sacrifice your privacy for the privilege of doing those things. As its enfant terrible CEO said:

“People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.” Mark Zuckerberg

This is his justification for making the sharing of your information with advertisers the default option, rather than something you are asked permission for. After all, polluting your browser and phone with battery-sapping code isn’t cheap. The man has needs.

It can’t be said often enough: if it’s free that means you are the product.

But Zuckerberg does have a point: while 19th and 20th Century Western Society embraced the idea of privacy, that value seems to be eroding today in the name of conformism. We want out celebrities and politicians to live open lives. As a tabloid reporter said in 2011; “Privacy is for paedos.”

There is a line somewhere, between what we need to know about the people that influence our lives, and what we don’t. There’s another line (somewhere much closer to the “nothing, so fuck off” border,) between what we need to know about everyone else and what we don’t. We, however, are allowing this line to be redrawn by the government, private industry, and our “friends.”

But Facebook and its ilk have a more insidious effect:

“The demonisation of the private sphere, sullied with connotations of abuse and corruption, rests on the denigration of individual freedom and autonomy in general. We cannot be left alone, and, too often now, we no longer want to be left alone (emphasis added.) Independence of thought and life has been supplanted by instagrammed dependence on the validation of others.” – Tim Black

I think this touches on something I often see on both Facebook and Twitter: over-the-top declarations of conformity. It’s not enough to just quietly agree or even just click the “like” button. Our acknowledgments have to be immediate and heartfelt, preferably full-throated and a little threatening to any who disagree.

There’s a connection between groupthink, individuality, and a loss of privacy. A desire to fit in often leads to a desire to disclose. This desire to disclose becomes social proof, and then the norm becomes disclosure.

 

The United States of Wabi-Sabi

I spent three days in Washington DC last week. It was only my second visit, and the first was so brief and condensed that it barely counts.

DC is a suitable capital city for the United States. It’s broad, diverse, beautiful, ugly, deeply symbolic, and crassly commercial. The parks and monuments around the national mall are a gorgeous natural oasis surrounded by an urban hellscape. As my wife and I walked from our hotel past luxury apartments and 5-star restaurants, we encountered more panhandlers that I see in a couple of weeks in NYC. Even the hellish traffic fits with the United States’ self-destructive love affair with the automobile.

It’s an interesting time to visit the nation’s capital. It’s hard to stand at the marble feet of Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson without wondering what they would think of the “man” who holds their job now. Walking past images of World War II and the Great Depression after listening to a speech about the “victims” of the Affordable Care Act was almost physically painful.

And of course, none of today’s controversies are new. While #45 may represent the absolute nadir of personal and professional qualifications for Chief Executive, today’s political debates have been with us for generations.

I left the capital not really sure what to think. The inherent contradictions in our nation’s capital were not surprising, but they were more stark and startling than I expected, and the news that John McCain was the man who delivered what might have been the killing blow to ACA repeal only brought the contradictions into starker relief.

On my first full day back home I opened up my RSS Reader, sobbed quietly at the number of unread articles, and started my triage. What would I just mark as “read” and what did I have time to read?

I came across this video while separating the wheat from the chaff.

Wabi-sabi has several meanings, and its meanings have mutated over the centuries, but what stuck out to me was the concept of flawed beauty, the idea of acknowledging the beauty of something not just despite its flaws, but because of them.

This aspect of wabi-sabi isn’t just a way to appreciate the beauty of everyday objects but also gives us a reason for optimism. Our nation is flawed, and it always has been flawed, but there is still beauty here. We’re best served by focussing on that as we try to fix things.

Cheryl Hunter, in a TedTalk that’s actually worth sitting through (unicorns exist!), tells a story that teaches us about Wabi-Sabi with a very visceral story.

 

The Customer Must Always Be Fleeced

Last week I went online and agreed to pay a little more for faster Internet. There are three adults in the house, and we all make pretty regular use of the ‘net for a variety of activities, so it seemed worth another $15 a month for a 50% faster connection.

We don’t have cable TV. My connection from Verizon is an ethernet connection, not cable. So this should have consisted entirely of my checking a box indicating that I want to pay more, followed by something in one of their data centers telling something in my house to operate at a faster speed.

But there are lawyers involved, so I had to click through 4 or 5 screens and check off at least four boxes because lawyers that work for tech companies make a lot of money by slowing things down and making them more complicated.

And this was Verizon, so after telling me that faster Internet would only cost me $15 a month more, they sent me an email saying “Your order has shipped!” I didn’t know what they were talking about.

I lied. I did know what they were talking about. I immediately knew that they shipped me a new router.

As I mentioned earlier, I have no cable connection; only a network connection. Since paying Verizon $10 a month or so for a crappy router would be silly, Verizon’s network cable is plugged directly into my expensive and very fast router.

So why would they send me a new one? I called, suspecting I knew the answer.

Their customer service person claimed that they sent it in case the equipment I have cannot handle the faster speed. This is male cattle feces. They have the ability to check their connection to my equipment and ensure that it is fast enough. They could do this automatically as part of the sales process.

I asked if I would pay a monthly fee for the router.

Yes. If I didn’t return it, I would.

I was right. That’s why they sent it!

So, since the package was not sent requiring a signature and I did not have a chance to refuse it, I went to the Verizon store to return it the day after it arrived.

Fun fact: you can’t return FIOS equipment at a Verizon Wireless. Never mistake them for one-stop-shopping business for cellular, Internet, and cable.

I didn’t open the box for the router. I had to open the shipping box because it since it didn’t say Verizon on it anywhere, but once I realized what it was, I left the router box sealed.

At the store, the customer service rep immediately opened the router. He had to scan a barcode on it to get my account info, apparently because the packing list inside bore no information about the device or why it as shipped.

Once it was open, I got a good look at the router. It was for cable service. I couldn’t have used it if I wanted to.

So, either Verizon doesn’t know what equipment I have, or they were hoping I would just throw the unused equipment on a shelf and pay a monthly fee for it.

While I was there, I overheard a conversation. I have paraphrased it below.

Service Rep: “Can I help you, Ma’am?”

Customer: “Yes, I would like to upgrade to the new cable boxes and faster Internet.”

Service Rep: “Can I have your phone number?”

Customer: (provides her number) She beckons to her husband, who was admiring the 65-inch display TV that was in desperate need of adjustment. 

Service Rep: “Your contract is expired.”

Customer: Looks at Service Rep as she doesn’t understand why she should care about this, she just wants those things she asked for when he asked her how he could help.

Service Rep: “You’ll have to get a new phone number.”

(In the interests of space, I won’t try to recount the Customer’s husband proceeding to lose his composure. I’ll summarize. Add your own histrionics.)

Customer’s Husband: “You have to port the number. It’s the law.” (He’s right.)

Service Rep: “That’s only between companies. We don’t have to when it’s inside our business.” (He’s also right, but in a very unhelpful way.)

Then the rep spent some time poking around on his computer and discovered that they could keep their number.

For a $22 fee.

I live in an area that’s lucky enough to have two cable monopolies instead of just one. I can only imagine how much more petty and abusive it is when there is only one.

This business model is based on abundance; clients are willing to sustain an abundance of abuse from the only company(s) that provide the service they need.

At some point, that abundance will run out. The FCC will eventually take the steps required to let broadband wireless providers become viable. This will be at least four years from now because the rather modest progress we’ve made with policing Internet providers is rapidly being undone right now. (#MAGA!)

My only hope is that I am still around when it happens so I can happily switch to one of them and watch these thieves recede into irrelevance and bankruptcy.

Caveman Politics

This video describes Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and how it relates to his theories of government and his Theory of Forms. It’s also a video with TED Talk branding that doesn’t have a twentysomething single hipster telling you that you should quit your day job and follow your dreams because it worked for him, which is odd, but I digress.

Plato’s Cave can also be used as a metaphor for a debate that has gripped our nation for years: media bias. We’ve been discussing media bias for decades, but the debate has taken on a sense of urgency in recent months, for obvious reasons.

We’re all chained to the ceiling of a cave. In most cases this cave is self-imposed. We limit ourselves to the things we want to see. If you’re reading this from what most of us call “the Western World” you have a variety of choices in news and entertainment and what you chose is based on a combination of convenience and taste.

None of these choices are perfect. The first step in media savviness is realizing that everyone is their own unreliable narrator. All media have some degree of “bias” based on ownership, editorial staff (which is chosen by the owner(s) of course,)  and who the news is written for. (Again, decided by the ownership, but many owners are more than happy to sell something they would never personally choose.)

So we’re chained in the caves we choose. Perhaps a cave with a cable tv host that is careful to only rant about stories we want to hear, or with a website that only has stories critical of one President or complimentary to another, or a Facebook timeline that tunes itself to keep us just angry enough to keep scrolling.

One of the things that makes “the Western World” the western world is government staying largely out of these choices. Americans like to think our First Amendment makes us special, but it doesn’t. Freedom of Speech, which means a free media, is a part of every functioning democracy. Each nation has different wrinkles, like Britain’s less media-friendly libel laws, Germany’s restrictions on some parties, and the U.S’s silly puritanical streak, but a free media is always there in some form.

For the first time in a long while the U.S. has a government that actively and visibly has its collective fingers on the media scale. Politicians always play favorites and always have an influence on media by deciding where, when, and who to talk to, but what we see now is different. We’re seeing open hostility to any venue that reports unwanted news, combined with a concerted effort to game the system via changing the way press briefings work, who is permitted to attend them and, of course, “going around” the media.

This strategy is possible because a significant number (but not a majority) of Americans are already hanging in caves that are amenable to telling only what they want to hear. Their caves have shadows cast by media that are friendly to the new government and outright hostile to media that disagree.

I’m a bit of an optimist. I think this whole mess is going to collapse eventually, maybe even soon. But I am also enough of a realist to recognize that while the people hanging in government-friendly caves at the moment are not a majority, a majority of people are still living in caves of their own. When people resist now, is it because they don’t want the government to interfere with a free press, or because they hear things that conflict with the shadows on their walls?

I’m often afraid of what the real answer is. It’s easy to assume that the other guy is stupid, especially when he’s in a different cave.

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