I have been in a serious relationship for more than 12 years. My partner in this relationship has brought me joy through the years, but lately, I feel like I’m giving to this relationship far more than I’m getting out of it. The relationship no longer brings me the joy that it once did, and has suffered from several breaches of trust in recent years. I’ve received many credible reports from reliable sources that my partner is doing things behind my back without my knowledge, and that they are reckless with secrets I shared with them in confidence.
So as painful as it is going to be, I have decided to end my relationship with this partner. As of today, I am breaking up with Facebook.
The early days
I remember with great fondness our early years together. Facebook allowed me to keep in touch with friends and relatives that geography and time had prevented before. I had a singular secure location where I could share pictures and funny stories of my growing kids, and could enjoy the same from others with whom I was connected. As the platform grew, it became the ubiquitous gathering place for most everyone I knew. The old lie of “I’ll call you for lunch sometime” turned into the more easily achievable “Friend me on Facebook”. Rather than bumping into those far-removed friends and relatives a couple of times a decade, we had a virtual water cooler where we could easily keep in touch as much as we wanted.
But then you changed
After 6 years or so into our relationship, Facebook shifted their approach significantly. Gone was the easy-to-use chronological scroll of information shared by my friends and family; this was replaced by a “top stories” list driven by a hidden algorithm that made it difficult to follow. Even worse, this opaque algorithm often suppressed activity from the people I most wanted to keep in touch with. The advertisements began to outnumber the legitimate status updates, further muddying what used to be a clean news feed.
I get it – these changes were meant to increase ad revenue. As a business owner, I empathize with Facebook’s need to balance the usability of a free service with sustaining the revenue required to keep the lights on. Since none of us were paying for Facebook, it’s clear that we were the product rather than the consumer. But they really made us feel like a commodity when they rolled out these changes that so significantly diminished the usability of the platform, and it was clear that we were being used but not valued.
Also during this time, Facebook started suggesting – based on facial recognition – whom to tag in photos. While this was convenient, it also felt a bit creepy. This was when I began to question just how much information I was sharing in this relationship. Around the same time, leaked information from a Facebook internal memo seems to suggest that growth is the only goal, even at the expense of personal safety.
But still, I persevered in this relationship. In spite of the difficulties, I continued to find enjoyment in keeping in touch through Facebook.
I heard what you were telling others about me
I have entrusted Facebook with a lot of my personal information. Where I live, how I vacation, where I work, where I travel, myriad photos of me and my family, my political leanings, and even my private messages were all stored in Facebook’s data vaults. By posting this information on Facebook – a free-to-me service – I knowingly give up a certain amount of privacy. But what I learned about how Facebook was sharing my data with others shocked and appalled me.
First, I learned that Facebook had surrendered a bunch of data to another partner of theirs, Cambridge Analytica, who used that data in an attempt to boost a dreadfully unethical political campaign. In fact, Facebook gave my information to Cambridge Analytica even though I did not directly interact with that company; their sloppy security controls allowed my information to be given out because of one my contacts on Facebook took a quiz in one of their apps.
I also learned that Facebook kept videos I asked them to delete. They continued to share my information with third parties – including an internet company in a hostile nation – even after they said such sharing had ceased. I discovered that they shared my data with device manufacturers, even when I configured my security settings to deny such access to outsiders. And in a stunning breach of trust, I learned that Facebook even sold my personal, private messages to third parties.
These unauthorized disclosures are not new: Facebook settled with the FTC in 2011 over charges of improperly sharing user data. And in what may have been an early foreshadowing of things to come, a young Mark Zuckerberg referred to early users of Facebook “dumb f***s” for entrusting him with their data. Mark, maybe you were right after all.
… and that you were reckless with my secrets
Facebook allowed Russian trolls to infiltrate the platform and influence the many, many users who exclusively get their news from their corner of the Facebook echo chamber. They introduced a bug that shared the private posts of 14 million people. Then they were hacked, compromising some 50 million accounts. Yet another breach exposed the photos of another 6.8 million accounts.
It’s not me. It’s you.
I have enjoyed using Facebook to keep up with family and friends, but their poor privacy practices and insufficient data protections leave me with no option but to withdraw myself from this relationship. Clearly, it’s not just me: the founders of Instagram, which was acquired by Facebook, abruptly left the company recently, and WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton expressed regret about selling his company to Facebook, stating in part: “I sold my users’ privacy to a larger benefit. I made a choice and a compromise. And I live with that every day.” The District of Columbia attorney general has already filed suit over the Cambridge Analytica mess, and Facebook (along with Google) has been accused of running afoul of the GDPR from day one.
Numerous other individuals and companies, including Mozilla, Elon Musk and his companies SpaceX and Tesla, Pep Boys, and Sonos have either stopped advertising on Facebook or deleted their accounts entirely, and notable figures including Steve Wozniak, Will Ferrell, and Jim Carrey have all dumped the platform.
I’m seeing someone else
I have started using the platform MeWe as a Facebook replacement. It’s still fairly new and has a fraction of a fraction of the users that Facebook has, but its dedication to privacy is promising. I don’t know if MeWe has the depth or maturity to truly compete with Facebook, but I’m willing to give them a chance. I hope they don’t break my heart.
Let’s just be friends
For now, I’m not going to completely delete my accounts. I have my personal account as well as two professional accounts; the former will soon be disabled, and the latter two will remain untouched with no new posts. I’ll not be spending any more advertising money with Facebook so long as these technical and moral deficiencies exist in the company.
Should they decide to change their ways in the future, I will reconsider getting back together with Facebook. But for now, we are better apart than together.