Friday, February 5, 2010

How to get off Facebook

So, I just got off Facebook. Why? Basically privacy concerns, but also because I fundamentally felt that the technology was much more promising when it first came out. There were limitations: Facebook couldn't do everything and anything. It felt like an extension of text-messaging. Twitter now is more like what Facebook was then, although that could change too. But now the clunky thing just feels like a database, a slightly more entertaining version of email--which, by the way, also just acts as a huge data mining operation:

For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos [...], you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook [...]. This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it. [And] When you delete IP content, it is deleted in a manner similar to emptying the recycle bin on a computer. However, you understand that removed content may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time (but will not be available to others).

That's the "privacy" statement you agreed to a little while ago. It was worse a couple months ago, when they made a huge grab just to own everything outright and in perpetuity. They were a little bit more explicit then about what this all involved:

You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof.

Justifiable outrage by users has kept this all in the air as of today, but the arguments are mounting by the people who wrote that last statement that ownership of your information is completely natural--it's what people should expect. This, of course, is only one instance where intellectual property "rights" have been extended to basically steal any private information of yours and use it to make money. Meanwhile, whatever isn't just outright obscene about the whole operation is covered up by styling it as you helping the company "create" by "generating" "content." Moreover, if you demand that you own anything you write there, any of your photos--that's actually getting in the way of their ability to further "innovate." It's an immense ratcheting-up of the consumerist arguments of old: your individual, private preferences, "expressed" clearly and in the open enough (that is, if you think using money is the same thing as genuine personal expression, like our Supreme Court), can magically bring you better products and services (especially services). But it's also a coordination and hyperextension (if I can say that) of a lot of other rhetoric about "innovation" and "creativity" in business that have an really long history and basically pops up whenever business practices as a whole are looking as shady as they do now. Meanwhile, we can't even find information about who precisely caused the financial disaster--not to mention how exactly they used our bailout money--and every attempt at introducing transparency is met by the argument that it will somehow cause even more market "instability."

But I'll return from all these indicators that a discursive struggle over the meanings of all these words in quotes is occurring and has real consequences (and that it works the other way around too) to my point that Facebook has also become, generally, an unwieldy behemoth. This is what people, who I've talked to about this, don't quite seem to understand--or indeed admit but don't do anything about: all this data you're giving them hasn't produced a better service at all! There are many, many more creative ways to communicate with people--especially now with Twitter, Skype, and all sorts of other microblogging and friend-finding technologies which can only further proliferate with time! In using something other than Facebook (not to mention email), you're not giving up much that is substantive about your connection with people--you're giving up the chance to occasionally get drunk and creepily poke one you forgot existed.

Now, I realize that for a lot of people Facebook too is more than this (even though the almost enforced-fun had in the recent "doppleganger week" suggests otherwise), and I don't want to knock anything that is indeed rewarding and meaningful. After a couple years, when the technology spread to older people (but also to other younger people), these people used it as a way to find old friends who might have had email--and this also prompted Facebook to fundamentally change it's texting-like structure (not to mention the structure of the friend-networks themselves, which were primarily college-based) to something broader. The whole thing itself became an alternative to email in some way (and set the stage for Google Wave, which, I think, fundamentally seeks to do away with that altogether and pave the way for users to slip in and out of constant streams of updates, never exiting the network) and offered something like what it was to talk to them back in school or whenever they were in close proximity (whereas for the college kids at the beginning, it was merely an alternative to day to day interaction, providing a forum where all sorts of additional creepy/cute awkwardnesses could be created). This is substantial--and it is combined with the comfort of only having to talk to someone in little bursts, when most internet-based technology provides, fundamentally, too-instantaneous of a connection. It's as if these people are trying to work out a new form of technologized familiarity, one that works on the level of weeks rather than seconds, and lets you live side-by-side across huge distances--like future astronauts on the way to a distant planet calling home, only not minding at all that delay in transmission of a few minutes... since the delay in connection has become not a feature of the technology but of our lives themselves, which are pauses in the flow.

So I'm wary of condemning this sort of effort, which provides new possibilities the more and more people consciously take hold of and further refine its specificity (that is, it is a site of struggle to define the shape of our everyday practices). But there is still the danger that someday, you're still just good old friends with certain people when it is convenient to be. And Facebook itself, since it always needs more data, seems to encourage this by constantly pushing you to extend your connections to less and less relevant people in your life (like famous people). This, of course, is countered by the creation of fan pages (strenuously encouraged by Facebook instead of and making false or fictional identities--as you can wonderfully do in Twitter and as I have done with I.A. Richards), which then provide another basis for everyone to reconnect substantially within the system (that is, Facebook can never become a fantasy space). But the tendency--despite this uneven and counter-balancing virtual topography--is to disperse by connection. And given that, why not take all these new forms of interaction that we are building, and make something even better than Facebook that caters to them (and meanwhile allows its content to be governed by a Creative Commons license, for example, like Flickr).

This, however, is just my way of responding to the biggest argument against getting off Facebook which was proffered to me ceaselessly during this whole process: that I'll lose all my friends. Not only did many people say this to me--but only mildly, as if people who said it also knew it was bullshit--but also Facebook itself shows you pictures of your friends (not just of the friends, but of the significant photos in which you and your friends are there, having a good time--they actually have algorithms that use your their data to tell them this) while you try and wrest yourself from the whole network and "deactivate" (you can't delete--all your information still stays there with them) your account! My response is simply that it would be extremely depressing if friendship was the same thing as being networked together with someone on Facebook! We have to draw this fundamental distinction between the social activity in "social" media or "social" networking and actual, genuine social life if we want to have any rich conception of the latter--or, more importantly (since it shouldn't ever remain a merely moral issue), if we ever want to push our technologies further towards actually integrating that social life. On that last point, you can see from this and all the above that I'm no Luddite--which was another, more popular way I was characterized throughout this process. With the proliferation of those alternative ways to communicate that I mentioned above, I don't see any reason why the connectivity with anyone has to drop off. So it's really a matter of asking whether we really want to accept the form of friendship being "given" to us (with the caveat that it takes everything private about you and puts a price tag on it).

So, now that it's clear why I indeed got off of Facebook, I'll finally just take you through how you can do it:

1) Go through and find all the emails and other contact information (AIM, twitter, blog) of your friends, and create a little database for them. You'll be surprised at how many people's emails you don't know how reliant you are on Facebook to connect you to them when you can just take some initiative and talking to them yourself. This isn't hard--it takes about 20 minutes max.

2) Go through and copy all the pictures you want to keep--if you don't have copies of them on your computer already (and you might not). This'll take 5 minutes max.

3) Delete your information. I'd say delete as much as you feel comfortable deleting--though I'd stress getting rid of a lot of your profile info. I think it's okay to leave some pictures up there and some of your other stuff... they're Facebook's anyway now. Moreover, your friends will be taking pictures of you and putting you up there, so it's not like you have to cover up all of your tracks. It'll take 5 minutes.

4) Take your contact info and send out a notification to your friends about the change. I'd try and do this in email, because then it makes people more comfortable replying to you and getting the ball rolling back in that form of connectivity. You can do it through Facebook, though--but remember that this doesn't encourage any alternative effort to contact you on their part. Moreover, Facebook doesn't let you actually send an email to all of your friends at once without creating a group (and you have to be suspicious about this, which, while trying to keep out spam, still says something about the indirect sort of communication that Facebook in reality is). This will probably take 10 minutes.

5) Do a final check and go to Accounts. At the bottom of the page will be an option to deactivate your account. Click it, ignore the bullshit about how your friends will miss you, and get the hell out of there and into newer, more truly creative forms of communicating with all those people. Also, remember that Facebook will save all your password information so that if you ever revisit the site, they'll be there waiting for you to come back--don't rejoin by mistake. But if you forgot to get rid of anything, indeed rejoin and you'll be able to get rid of it and deactivate--as they repeatedly assure you, all your stuff will be there just as it was before (since they own it). This'll take 5 seconds.

You can also commit seppukoo, if you want to do all this in a more flashy way. And if you decide to reform the thing from within (which I hope you do--I'm not out to convince anyone why they should do this, just to relate why I myself did it and how you can if you want), make sure check your privacy settings.


Italian Film Series said...

you convinced me, I'll do it asap, thanks! (a grad student far away)

Robyn said...

If you delete photos, do they actually delete or just "deactivate"? I think anyone that has decent photos or artwork (not just party pics) up there would want to try to delete them if that's possible. I'm scared shitless now!

Mike Johnduff said...

I think, Robyn, that the clause "unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it" has something to do with all this. A lot of stuff on Facebook is shared, though (that's the whole damn point of the thing), so who knows. Currently, from what I hear, my profile is gone away... I haven't been able to check out my photos and the ones I've been in.

Paul John Ennis said...

I'm impressed although my own reaction has been to just not log in much. I still find out about many things via facebook esp. from the young grads here who are seriously plugged in and so organize every social event via facebook (some events are never mentioned in real life]. Although I admit I've always been a little less concerned about privacy/or making money via info than most people so the main reasons to opt out are missing for me.

Mike Johnduff said...

I had that reaction too, Paul--I just didn't use it as much... as you know. And if it's still working for you, that's fine--I'm not trying to convince anyone, especially around those reasons, which quickly become too big. My main reason, as I'm saying, is just that it isn't doing anything for me anymore... so why keep it rather than not? If you still get some info that way, it's good. But even then, why put up with something that feels that clunky and weird? This is also my experience--as I said Facebook was a different animal a few years ago when I first used it, so I saw something of its development, and was not impressed with that.

sixthmonth said...

This is scary.

The other day, I was informed by a good friend that a polemic on ethical business I indulged in, with some Orkut friends couple of years back (I've deleted my a/c there since long) was now being circulated as one Co's USP. I came to know that the one I had discussed with is the owner of that Co. with some turnover in whatever.

And to realize that it was diligently copied,saved and is now being used for their marketing purpose without the slightest knowledge of mine, is disheartening.

Thanks for this timely blogpost which is certainly an eye-opener.


Sue said...

I've been looking for reasons not to join facebook. The fervor about it is palpable, and so are the negatives. I call my daughter once a week about it, and she says, "don't join, mom." I'm just looking at all the information.
Thanks for this very informative blog

whiterosechild09 said...

I just left Facebook. I had been considering doing so for a couple of months anyway, and the fact that it's getting in the way of my study concentration (I'm a second-year English student), along with this well-written post, helped convince me. So I followed your directions.
And you know what? As soon as I hit "Deactivate" and it gave me that sorrowful page reminding me that I could log back on and return anytime - I closed the browser, and I felt free. I've got my life back! Extra time to read, write and see the world outside a computer screen.

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Margelit said...

This really seems to be the zeitgeist now. The DaytoDisconnect and Unplug and Connect campaign addresses this beautifully:

Wesley said...

I'm also tired of all the superficial "friendships" on facebook. I recently removed my account and the only social media I now use is to get together with my REAL friends in REAL life.