The process of disconnecting from Facebook started out easily enough. I put up a post to tell my friends and family that I was planning to deactivate my account and two days later, that’s what I did. It took me a few minutes to find the right page and the right link in order to deactivate, but once I had done that, it was easy to just click and be done.
It was emotionally difficult for me to deactivate my Facebook account but once I had, it was surprisingly easy to adjust to living without it. It has only been about two weeks but so far, I’m glad I don’t check in several times a day anymore. It feels liberating. I still have to figure out how to keep in touch with all those people who are friends and family, but I’m hoping someone comes up with an alternative social network without the surveillance. I’d be happy to pay for that.
I debated a long time over whether to deactivate or delete the account, but I decided to give Facebook an opportunity to acknowledge their responsibility, apologize, and fix the problem of unauthorized data distribution. At the time of writing, they have made a half-assed apology but they haven’t actually taken the blame. They also claim to have made changes to the system to solve the technical issues, but as far as I can tell the solutions mostly require users to take responsibility for their own accounts.
As I read more about what my Facebook profile and settings permitted, the more I realized that I had to go back to my account and check all my settings. A week after deactivating, I reactivated in order to make some changes. I made sure that everyone on my friends list was someone I actually know and deleted anyone who wasn’t. I also checked my privacy settings to protect both myself and my friends. Facebook didn’t make this process simple, though. It took me a while to figure out how to get to the pages and settings I needed.
Since I did this, Facebook has made some of this easier by making the links easier to find, and by grouping some key privacy choices. In addition, an article in The Guardian provides some links for both Facebook and Google so that we can find out what information they are keeping on us. I already have an app on my computer that clears my browsing data and I adjusted it so that it does that job every time I exit my browser. To improve my online safety, I took the advice of a New York Times article and installed a tracker blocker. I also took instructions from LifeHacker and deleted all imported phone contacts.
As I was going through this process of deactivating Facebook and revising my security settings, I checked in with my younger son who was also rethinking his association with the site. He has decided to keep his Facebook account open, but to strengthen his privacy settings considerably. He reminded me to download a file of the data that Facebook has on me and also to check the permissions I have given to third-party apps. I downloaded the file, but I forgot about the apps. I’m going to have to reactivate (again!) so that I can do that. Stupidly, I worried that they would get upset if I reactivate and deactivate too often. As if they care.
The information in my data file is interesting and sometimes quite odd. I can understand why they have assigned to me many personality characteristics based on my interests and the things I have “liked.” On the other hand, under the heading Ads Topics they have listed God (I’m an atheist), Malaysia Airlines (which I have never used), Ski resorts (I don’t ski), Homesteading (what, why?), Grist magazine (I’m not sure I even want to know what this is), and the Australian Labour Party! Now I’m wondering what I did that triggered those Ad Topics. Fortunately, I have an ad blocker, so I never saw ads for these or any other topics.
A friend pointed out to me that if so much of the personality profiles they create about us is so often off-base, then maybe we shouldn’t worry about them. I’m still thinking about that, but the fact that they do this at all—even if they do it badly—is problematic. And then we have to concern ourselves with who gets access to this flawed information and how they utilize it. It’s all very troubling, especially as it now seems (from the Guardian article mentioned earlier) that even when we delete things, they don’t stay deleted from Google.
My data file also included some installed applications that surprised me; QuizzStar (which caused a lot of these problems to begin with), Filepicker.io (I don’t know what this is for), and GoFundMe which I did not know I had linked to my Facebook account. Actually, there are some apps that I knew were linked but now I don’t want them to have that connection anymore. So, I really must go back in and fix all that.
All of this took about an hour, and I suspect that a lot of people won’t want to bother. They’ll just delete their account and have done with it. Others won’t be able to find the settings they want to change and/or feel uncertain about what is required. They’ll probably delete Facebook rather than try to figure it out. And, if you are thinking about downloading the file they have on your data, you’ll need your Facebook password. My guess is that only about half of us can remember what that is.
My first thoughts, when I learned about the data theft, were entirely about the security of my personal data and that of my friends. And, I was really angry about their carelessness and indifference to the impact of the data giveaway and subsequent illegal abuse. Now that I feel (I hope!) I have made my account more secure, I am more inclined to protest. If Facebook and Zuckerberg see my deactivation as a protest, then so be it. Really, though, it was just personal protection. My protestations are just getting started. I still have to figure out how to do that effectively, but it seems pretty clear that Facebook’s data on me will only become secure if I pay them to make it so. Even then, I’m not sure I would trust them.