Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Internet Beyond Facebook

I deleted my Facebook account just before it was "cool" - at the end of April 2010. See? This is the Google Search Trends for the query "delete Facebook":
It was just after I read the Eroding Privacy Timeline, published by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and right before these events happened:
Yes, May 2010 was a bad month for Facebook and I am glad I got out when I did (not that my account was actually deleted).

Here's a fair question of me: If I care so much about online privacy issues, why do I have a blog, a homepage, a Google/Gmail account, a Twitter account, etc?

For one, most of the online services I subscribe to have fairly easy-to-read and easy-to-digest privacy policies (example: Gmail. Counterexample: Facebook's privacy policies over time). Second, my favourite services often give me an easy way out - it's easy to delete accounts, unlike Facebook. Third, most of these services have spent a lot of time building and earning my trust as a user - Facebook has always been sketchy. Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, the services don't radically change over time, at least not to the insane degree that Facebook has changed from privacy-centric to advertiser-centric.

(I'll admit that the services I like aren't without flaws. I am a fan of Google products but they dropped the ball with Google Buzz when it was released).

There's a difference between leading a private life and the expectation of the right to privacy. For example, from Fall 2008 to Spring 2009 I spent months trying to get more information on the secret yellow tracking dots that colour laser printers use to identify document owners (it's not a conspiracy theory!). I got in touch with Lexmark and they eventually offered to give me a full refund on my years-old colour laser printer, but I was more concerned with the overall privacy issue at hand, not my personal privacy. I declined the offer.

Back on topic. Privacy issues aside, Facebook had evolved into a service that just wasted my time. I'd log in (several times per day, usually) and just creep updates. Then, I realized that the reasons most people used Facebook suddenly no longer applied to me!
  • Photo sharing - Facebook does this well, but there are free alternatives with more flexible privacy controls like Flickr and Google's Picasa.

  • Staying in touch with friends and family - That's why I have a phone (voice/text/BlackBerry Messenger) and email.

  • Reconnecting with old friends - There are lots of other ways to do this.

  • Connecting with organizations through Fan Pages - Often congested and ugly for big organizations and under-used and neglected for small ones. Also, this feature is now less about connecting and more about marketing.
I'm not arguing that everyone should delete their Facebook account; I am arguing no-one should feel trapped by something they optionally use. If you feel trapped, it's a sign you need to escape.

I felt cut off for the first few days after deleting my Facebook account, but now that it's gone, I don't feel like I am missing anything - I can waste my time doing other things! My subconscious urge to constantly check it is gone - I've escaped from the trap!