Are Facebook Users Quitting Facebook?

Organizers 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.

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