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.

 

Please Awesome This and Share

How has Facebook’s “like” button changed the world? Is it responsible for the spread of inaccurate news and that thing that happened in November? Has it become so far detached from the simple concept of “liking” something that it’s become downright counterproductive and maybe even dangerous?

Leah Pearlman is one of the people that came up the idea behind the button (which she called the “awesome button” for awhile.) She’s since left the company and makes excellent webcomics.

It’s interesting to read how she uses Facebook in this article:

Leah Pearlman has grown wary of Facebook. The 35-year-old illustrator uses the social network to promote her business, Dharma Comics, but has set up various safeguards to avoid becoming too emotionally invested in the happenings on the site. She uses a web browser plug-in called News Feed Eradicator, which replaces the social network’s endless stream of status updates, auto-playing videos, and advertisements with a single inspiring quote.

The Like button was intended to give users a quick way to indicate that they, well,  like something without having to write a comment. However, given how Facebook’s real raison d’etre is to mine data about what we share and what we read, it’s turned into the pivot point for a circle jerk.

But the place where Like diverges from typical human vanity is the way it powers Facebook’s increasingly omniscient News Feed algorithm. Facebook takes into account thousands of factors to determine what posts to prioritize in people’s feeds, but Like is one of the most straightforward ways that users convey positive sentiment to the company’s algorithms. A Like isn’t just a digital pat on the back — it’s an ambiguous upvote that drives a piece of content to more eyeballs. Like is presented as a simple, rewarding interaction point, but the ways in which it dictates what we see are opaque.

We see things because our friends like them, we like them because our friends liked them, then more friends see them, and so it goes.

Vonnegut would have a field day with this.

I remember when Facebook changed the timeline from chronological to whatever the hell it was then. Since then they’ve further tweaked the super secret algorithm they use for showing us what we see.

At some point, my suspicion that they hold their users in contempt became a conviction.

Like many people, my feelings about Facebook are decidedly mixed. It’s a good place to keep track of friends and share interesting links, photos, etc. , but at the same time, it can be a pretty ugly place, and Facebook-the-company’s goals and motivations become more and more evident as time passes.

I’m going to need Facebook when it comes time to sell books, but I wish I could find a better way to stay in touch with friends.

I honestly think Twitter is a better tool for staying in touch and sharing links and images because it provides you what you ask for in chronological order with no filter. But “no filter” requires the ability to ignore or at least tolerate things that one doesn’t like and accept criticism and dissenting opinions. If you’ve spent any time on Facebook, you’ll know that doing that is just impossible for too many people. (And it’s also threatening to kill Twitter.)

(By the way, Open Culture has instructions on how you can tweak your news feed if you are not ready to go the full feed eradicator route.)

 

Sixty Minutes Hate

In the opening of Nineteen Eighty-Four, we experience a “Two Minutes Hate” with Winston Smith.

Two Minutes Hate is a daily ritual in Oceania, the fictitious totalitarian state in Orwell’s novel. Citizens assemble in public places, are shown video of Oceania’s enemies, usually Emmanuel Goldstein—the enemy of the state, and must publicly display their hatred for two minutes.

Every time I read the book I find it a harrowing scene primarily because of one sentence:

The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in.

This quote is highlighted 3,567 times in the Kindle version I am reading. When I read it this time, I thought of two things: Facebook and cable “news.”

Nineteen Eighty-Four shot to the bestseller list last week. (It may still be there.) I already had it on my to-read list, so I popped it to the top of my stack and started reading it in between chapters of Dan John’s Never Let Go: A Philosophy of Lifting, Living and Learning.

I’m pretty sure Orwell’s classic starting outselling the usual self-help twaddle and latest Harry Potter cash-grab because of something one of the new administration’s representatives said on one of the Sunday Morning bloviation shows.  Her statement was reminiscent of Orwell’s Doublespeak.  Like many people, I decided it was time to re-read the book and experience Doublespeak in situ.

But reading about the Two Minutes Hate for the first time since Facebook since the Fox and MSNBC “news channels” became a part of our landscape hit me like a gold brick with a couple of pounds of fake news wrapped around it.

The Two Minutes Hate is, of course, organized by Oceania’s totalitarian state. There are plenty of obvious reasons why getting your citizens together for a couple of minutes every day and telling them who to hate and how much. As Winston tells us, it works. He literally can’t keep himself from participating. He finds himself hating everyone he can think of during the two minutes, enemies of the state, friends of the state, and random people he sees during the event.

Hate, fear, and anger are powerful stuff.

Are you angry yet?

But we’re much more cooperative than the citizens of Oceania. We seek out hate minutes on our own, with no coercion required, and we usually hold them for hours, not just minutes. We tune into our favorite “news” readers and “comedians” (often the same thing) and cheer and jeer and snarl as they tell us about all of the horrible things that horrible people did all horrible week that we already know about because we already read, shared, and liked the headlines (and maybe even read the stories—but probably not) on Facebook or Twitter.

And then we gleefully share the video of our favorite newsmedian on Facebook and Twitter and watch, share, and like that story until a new horrible headline rolls in. If it’s a good day, we may even see two or three of new things to rage over. And we’ve had some really, really, good days lately.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to focus on self-care. A big part of that is dealing with the fact that I have very little temper and I keep forgetting where I’ve left it. So I’m generally up for a few minutes hate at the drop of a hat or a headline.

Right after I finished the first chapter of Nineteen Eighty-Four I read a chapter in Never Let Go about Olympic Gold medalist and wrestling coach Dan Gable. Dan John summarizes Gable’s coaching philosophy thusly:

If it is important, do it every day. If it’s not important, don’t do it at all.

John is, as usual, talking about front squats, but maybe we should we apply this to Two Minutes Hate? Is it important? Do you need to do it every day?

I don’t think so. I’m working on stopping it.

Am I trying to be more empathetic? Is this a call for patience, love, and understanding?

Hell, no.

There’s plenty to be angry about. Hate may even be a valid response right now, but as rewarding as hate can be, wallowing in it does nothing but reduce clarity.

Orwell’s fictional state enforced Two Minutes Hate because it made the populace easier to control.

I’m not giving up that control, not to the state and not to a newsmedian.

Photo credit:

The cartoon above was created by DonkeyHotey for WhoWhatWhy from these images: Anderson Cooper caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), Bill O’Reilly caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), Rachel Maddow caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0), TV (Dave Catchpole / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), sheep 1 (RAY / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), sheep 2 (Rivindu Weerasekera / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0), body 1 (Nan Palmero / Flickr – CC BY 2.0) and bodies 2 and 3 (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs / Flickr).

Facebook, Trust, and the Clueless Engineer

I do this research every day.
I do this research every day.

So I’m guessing you’ve heard about this. tl;dr : Scientists at Facebook manipulated the posts they showed certain users and then evaluated the posts the people being manipulated made. Then they published a study on the results.

A lot of people are reacting very strongly to this news.

Some people are pissed at the idea of being manipulated. While I empathize and agree, I think a lot of their anger is based on a contract with Facebook that Facebook abandoned a long time ago. Many people seem to think that Facebook is designed for them to share things with their friends, while their friends share things with them.

It doesn’t work that way anymore. It hasn’t for a long time.

Facebook has been manipulating how things are displayed in the “timeline” for literally years now. They are manipulating it to sell more ads. Deal with it. (Seriously, please deal with it and stop complaining. I wish FB could figure out how to hide those complaints from me.)

So, while the research strikes me as incredible unethical, the idea that they manipulated what people see on their timelines surprises me the way that night following day surprises me.

Meanwhile, another group of people seem to think what Facebook did is equivalent to the A/B testing that many websites do all the time and are surprised at the people that are pissed.

At first I thought Andreessen was mocking the idea that what FB did was publishable research, but later, in a debate with another person:

Normally I consider Andreessen to be insightful and a bit of an iconoclast (as well as pathologically compelled to swipe at Piketty at least 20 times a day – I wonder what a psychological study on that would reveal? But I digress…), but he really jumped the shark on this one. I don’t know if he’s being deliberately disingenuous or is really as clueless as he comes across here.

Of course his point is completely correct. Just like the engineer talking to the balloonist, his description of what happened is completely accurate. Advertisers (at least the good ones) have been adjusting, tweaking, and optimizing, their offers for as long as there has been advertising.

And the mechanics of Facebook’s “research” was largely the same as “normal” A/B testing: show different pages/posts to different people and measure the varied results. So to an engineer that only knows how to think like an engineer, what FB did might seem like the same thing.

But, as I outlined above, people don’t realize they are being advertised at when they go there. They think Facebook is for sharing pictures of their kids, their cats, and their meals, and if they don’t “get it” they’re just stupid users. But alas,  that annoying little thing called “ethics” means that we should, dramatic sigh, worry about why people are looking at the things we put in front of them.

It’s easier, of course, to not worry about why people are on our websites. It’s almost as easy to pay a lawyer or fifty to take the phrase “caveat emptor” and stretch a few thousand unintelligible words from it that no one will ever read, and then hide behind them when you get caught doing something unethical or, bizarrely, decide to publish the result of something unethical.

But having a lawyer, or even the world’s most popular website, is not a substitute for ethics. Skepchick covers the ethics behind what’s wrong with FB’s research better than I ever could over here. (Hint: there’s this thing called “informed consent” that doesn’t apply to sign up pages for websites or ads for Cialis, but does apply to research.)

It seems obvious to “say” it out loud, but the ‘Net is almost completely intertwined into our lives now. If you’re using it it’s important to realize that free stuff is never free. Whenever you visit a website or tap on a phone app you’re accepting a contract and you have no reason to believe that that contract is equitable, fair, or ethical.

Meanwhile if you are an engineer or entrepreneur, being successful online requires an understanding and appreciation of how other think and how they might react to something that you think is completely normal. Unless of course, your definition of success doesn’t include how you effect other people. If that’s the case, just carry on. You’re already doing a great job.

 

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