The firestorm around Trump-linked Cambridge Analytica is just the latest impetus for a growing number of people to #DeleteFacebook
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Over the weekend, the London Observer revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a British data firm that worked with Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign, had improperly harvested information from potentially millions of Facebook profiles. The breach occurred even though just 270,000 users on the world’s largest social network had consented to share their data with a Cambridge Analytica partner. It’s not clear if users whose data had been accessed will ever be informed, though the backdoor was users of an app called MyDigitalLife.
Facebook has suspended accounts linked to Cambridge Analytica, which denies wrongdoing, but damage has been done. The Federal Trade Commission is reportedly investigating whether the Menlo Park, Calif.-based social network violated a decree on sharing user data and many users are openly deliberating deleting their accounts on that social network— some ironically on Facebook itself. (Among the throng was an unverified Twitter account said to belong to Brian Acton, who sold Whatsapp to Facebook for $19 billion in 2014.)
It is time. #deletefacebook
— Brian Acton (@brianacton) March 20, 2018
Facebook didn’t return a request for comment on this story, but it said in an earlier statement that the company “remain[s] committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information.” In recent years, the Silicon Valley outfit has been accused of turning a blind eye to the spread of fake news on its platform during the 2016 election and for what’s charitably described as a laissez faire attitude toward user privacy. Media publishers led by News Corp., which owns Moneyish, have criticized the social network for its control over the online advertising market. Facebook reported a drop in the number of North American users on the platform daily for the first time in late 2017.
One early deserter was Al Abedi. The 32-year-old MBA student at the University of Chicago signed up with Facebook in late 2005 as a college student in his native Britain. Over time however, he saw the social network shift away from a way to keep in touch with close friends into something less useful. “As the platform expanded, it lost its cool. There were many more posts about mundane activities,” Abedi tells Moneyish.
The final straw for him came in 2010, when Bloomberg BusinessWeek published an article about how Facebook monetized users’ data. “I wasn’t comfortable with that, so I quit,” he sats.
More tech savvy users have been eyeing Facebook skeptically long before Cambridge Analytica. Software engineer David Gerton created an account when he was serving in the Peace Corps in the mid-aughts to keep in touch with friends and family. But he was turned off after it emerged in 2014 that Facebook data scientists tinkered with what almost 700,000 users saw in a bid to see if their moods could be manipulated. While the experiment appeared to be legal, many observers raised ethical questions.
“Facebook should know that ‘users’ are actually ‘people.’ And people don’t like to be manipulated,” says Gerton, adding that the Cambridge Analytica revelations made him even less likely to return to the platform. “I haven’t spoken with two family members since the elections because they are on Facebook and got the ‘other’ messaging. Now I know Cambridge Analytica was behind that and Facebook let it happen.”
With a market capitalization of over $480 billion, it can be hard to escape Facebook’s reach. Even if you delete your account, which in the United States doesn’t necessarily mean the company erases your data, there’s still a chance you’ll run into something Zuckerberg-controlled. Whatsapp is one of the world’s most widely used messaging apps and Facebook also owns the popular photo-sharing platform Instagram.
User experience designer James Cranford Teague has settled on what he sees as a happy medium. He became concerned about the political ads Facebook was showing him during the 2016 campaign and felt that the company wasn’t taking him seriously when he reported the information. Cranford Teague and his wife Tara, tried to quit Facebook several times since, but found it hard.
Instead, he unfollowed everyone on Facebook, and informed his friends that he would be sharing life details on his Medium blog, which autoposts to the social network. If someone tries to contact him on Facebook Messenger, they’re informed he doesn’t check the service anymore.
And life for the D.C.-based couple, he says, has improved significantly. “It’s a big relief now that I don’t waste time re-checking Facebook to see if comments trickle in,” Cranford Teague says. “Instead, I’m talking to my wife or reading books. I keep an actual paper book that I read by the bed, rather than trawling through comments.”
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