There is a point beyond which a service becomes too expensive. The latest round of news about Facebook has made it clear to me that we have passed that point. The social impact and privacy costs of Facebook are too high for me. So, at the end of this month, I will be deleting my Facebook and Instagram account.
I’ve read many people lately who are making the same decision over concerns about how much social media dominates their time. Although that is a serious question, this is not my concern with Facebook. In fact, the app hasn’t been installed on my phone for months. I am deleting my Facebook and Instagram accounts because of the clear record of Facebook’s violation of the public trust. They know more about me than any other organization in the world. And I don’t trust them with that knowledge.
My goal is not to make a convert out of you. I’m not looking to spark a boycott or any sort of public demonstration. This post is to explain my thinking and maybe prompt you to think about your relationship with this company. That is all.
Over the course of 2018, we learned a lot about how Facebook really operates, and it generated numerous scandals. Not only does Facebook follow you all over the web, track what you read, watch, and listen to, they also know what you purchase, where you go, and who you hang out with. Facebook has built a surveillance infrastructure that rivals in reach and depth anything George Orwell or the CIA could have dreamt up. And they have convinced us all to willingly hand over this information. Every day, millions of people share private and intimate details of their lives with this company.
The surveillance is not even the worst part. What’s actually worse is the purpose for which they use our private data. They are not using it to identify terrorists, study social ills, or encourage a constructive conversation in the public square. They are not aiming for any number of controversial, yet arguably defensible goals. No, they are using it to sell us T-shirts, insurance, and rugs. And of course in the process they are actually contributing to many of our societal ills. Smartphone addiction, a poisonous political discourse enflamed by filter bubbles, and foreign interference in our elections are just some of the problems that are being made significantly worse by Facebook. And in the last few weeks we’ve even heard about how they police political speech on their platform, with no transparency.
In tech punditry circles there was a popular phrase for a while that said if you used a service you didn’t pay for you were, in fact, the product. That’s not exactly true, but it does broadly capture the strategic reasons behind the success of companies like Facebook, Google, and others. My private data and ad impressions are Facebook’s inventory. I am their product. And that reality is one I can no longer abide.
By willingly handing over private information to these companies for a free service that is not essential—especially services that can be so destructive in how they can capture our attention—we are opening ourselves and our culture up to potentially massive problems. What we have seen with the Cambridge Analytica incident, Russian interference in our elections, and other Facebook scandals is just the tip of a very, very big iceberg. And I don’t think they can change course.
So I’m getting off the boat.