Over the weekend, I posted this status update on my Facebook profile.

Every day it seems I read a new privacy concern regarding Facebook.

From the Messenger App recording audio and video without your knowledge, to Facebook always resetting your Privacy settings to the default Public setting whenever an update goes through, to people appearing in Sponsored Ads without permission – it’s becoming equally tiring and concerning.

While I get the “You’re the product if you don’t pay” argument, I would counter with, “Yes, but product by its nature has a shelf life.” I’m thinking my shelf life with Facebook is coming close to its end.

I get the irony that, as a marketer who works with social data tools, I need peoples’ data to help make decisions. But that should be opt-in permissive data – freely available by that person’s decision, and not available through some questionable data sharing practice based on hoped-for ignorance by the users of that medium.

A lot of thinking to be had in the next few days – but the way it stands at the moment, Facebook doesn’t deserve the loyalty of its users (including me) that made it what it is, when the privacy of these same users is not something Facebook is too bothered with, regardless of their protestations.

As it turns out, I didn’t wait the few days I was planning on doing the thinking around my use of Facebook. Instead, I simply deleted my account for the simple reason that, at some point, we need to take a stand for our privacy.

We’re Better Than This

It’s been almost seven years since I opened my Facebook account. In that time, I’ve shared a lot of data about me personally, and recently my growing family. I’ve also allowed access to my data when certain third-party apps have requested them (though I did stop short at allowing access to my friends’ data).

I’ve tried to counter my growing concerns about the way Facebook uses and abuses the data we give them with varying degrees of justification.

  • It’s a free product so what right do we have to complain or question?
  • It’s only data that can be found elsewhere.
  • It’s only to allow ads in our streams, and we can always ignore these.

These, and arguments like them, have kept me logging into the world’s biggest network and continue to share data and, little by little, strip away any remaining privacy, imagined or otherwise.

Until the weekend.

Because this weekend all the doubts, all the growing concerns, all the facts that were staring me in the face came to a head, and enough was enough. This weekend, the mindset changed from “We simply put up with this” to “We’re better than this.”

We May Be The Product, But Every Product Has a Shelf Life

As I mention earlier in this post, I understand the irony of a marketer who uses social media data as a key part of strategic planning complaining about Facebook privacy. Pot, kettle, black, right?

And maybe it is. Then again, maybe it’s a sign of how questionable Facebook is in its approach that a marketer who needs certain Facebook data is taking a stand against the very data Facebook serves up – because it can’t be guaranteed that Facebook users have actually offered up that data.

Using the popular Facebook Messenger app I referred to earlier, did you know its Terms and Conditions Permissions include this specific language?

  • Allows the app to call phone numbers without your intervention. This may result in unexpected charges or calls. Malicious apps may cost you money by making calls without your confirmation.
  • Allows the app to send SMS messages. This may result in unexpected charges. Malicious apps may cost you money by sending messages without your confirmation.
  • Allows the app to record audio with microphone. This permission allows the app to record audio at any time without your confirmation.
  • Allows the app to take pictures and videos with the camera. This permission allows the app to use the camera at any time without your confirmation.

As a digitally-savvy user of social media, that language scares the hell out of me. Now, imagine how many users that don’t care about this little social media bubble we inhabit know about these settings?

Facebook Messenger app privacy

Can you honestly say the “We are the product” argument holds sway in the light of the terms above? At what point does “free” come to mean “[loss of] free[dom]“?

While we might currently be the product (Facebook won’t allow us to pay a premium to remove that product monkey from our backs), every product has a shelf life. When that shelf life is nearing its end, the parent brand can either renew the product or let it go to pasture.

In the case of Facebook (and other social networks), the product decides how long a shelf life it has.

Your Product, Your Rules

For me, that shelf life came to a close on the weekend. In the short term, it won’t mean squat to Facebook. It’s just one person among a billion.

But you know, even the smallest acorns can shake the mightiest oaks given the right conditions.

It may not be today. It may not be tomorrow.

But as more people start to read stories on the mainstream media channels, and more parents face the need to learn about social network privacy to protect their fast-growing children online, the nefarious privacy settings and language that the likes of Facebook use will be more evident.

Here’s hoping that learning comes before too many people find out the hard way that being the product Facebook-style is much more than just some legalese on a Terms and Conditions page – it’s essentially a target on your data forehead, and hunting season is always open.

  • Note – the Facebook Messenger app terms highlighted in this post would appear to be Android only at this point, which has been downloaded more than 1.3 million times at time of writing.
  • Note – In the comments, Facebook Production Engineer Jeff Ferland advised the Terms and Conditions referenced in the post are Permissions. The post has been edited accordingly.

image: opensource.com
image: infowars

29 comments
lornt123
lornt123

It needs permission to record audio & video and access your contacts so that you can send an audio, video and import your contacts. It can't do it without you asking it to.

It absolutely CANNOT do these things without YOU initiating them. It needs these permission in advance though so that when you ask it to do these things, they WORK. These kinds of stories crop up because people don't understand what permissions are required by an app in order to make it function in it's intended manner. For example, if you install a camera app it will require access to your camera in the T's&C's. That's how it works...

Daniel Nelson
Daniel Nelson

Privacy has several definitions these days, every sees it differently sadly :(

Ryan James
Ryan James

I have to say...this is one of the most bizarre articles I have read in a long time. It really makes you wonder if we will have any privacy in future years. Will this become a common practice in companies? Who knows! I will say that this is the prime reason that I do not use Facebook for any reason other than for fan pages. Thanks for sharing Danny.

Martin Lindeskog
Martin Lindeskog

I am taking a stand for my own privacy. As long as Facebook is not handing over the Big Data to the Big Brother, I am happy! ;)

Ivan Widjaya
Ivan Widjaya

I guess that's the problem of social media. It was like one day we kept our lives private and then all of the sudden they are exposed to the world. While posts may be selective, we are still entitled to our privacy especially those that deals with our life.

Krishna
Krishna

I'm also feeling exactly like whats in your mind danny, This is first time i'm reading your article and I just got awesome reading experience. Without privacy I can't get innovative ideas.

Jonathan Wong
Jonathan Wong

I think Facebook is so big now that they don't have any qualms of changing a few rules to make themselves more money or expand their borders. As they don't have any true competition (Google+ has been trying forever but it still can't match FB, and everyone else are either out of the game or appeal to niche roles) and have such a large database of users, I don't think they have any reason to these changes unless the community as a whole knows and acts on it.

Tinu
Tinu

Totally understand your decision. I deleted Facebook from my Android a couple of years ago, and have yet to install the mobile app on any device. If I have to use FB on the go, I confine my use to whatever the touch or mobile site can handle. I agree that the "we're the product" argument no longer holds water.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

Great post Danny. I barely use the site for myself personally. I don't have the app on my phone. I used it recently for 2 weeks just so I can have an opinion on it. Never saw any advertising so maybe I was missing something. I am appalled at the TOS for mobile. My end point was the DATR tracking cookie to follow you around the web. I now use Facebook in Chrome and most of my personal web work is on Firefox which doesn't accept their cookies. So dumb to have to do this. Glad you feel this way. There will be an end and I bet not that far off for the network. But by then Zuck and Goldman will have divested and laughed at us.

Mitch Mitchell
Mitch Mitchell

I don't even know what Facebook Messenger is, but I worry about privacy issues as well, moreso for others than myself. A cousin sent something that came in a text message to me. For me to even see the message I had to download something to my phone, then it said I was giving it permission to add all information and to contact everyone connected to me in my name. No way! Still, I'm not ready for the ultimate move yet, as I'm now connected to family I'd never see without it.

Bruce Canales
Bruce Canales

I agree with you Dan, I think its way to easy to find out so much about a person without even knowing them in person these days...

Gerry D
Gerry D

Man, I wish this were REQUIRED reading (and a test for access to FB) by all Facebook users. It may not make an immediate impact, but to your point, enough acorns WILL make the difference. I gave up FB about 6-7 months ago. I do Computer Security for a living, and I couldn't bear the latest FB update screwing up my security permissions one more time. Your'e right in that, they just don't give a damn. It's a shame as i think the original premise of FB is not where it is today. Circling the bowl. Thanks for sharing. Gerry

Jeff Ferland
Jeff Ferland

Hi Danny, The "Terms of Serivce" you're referencing are not a terms of service. They're permissions settings within the Android operating system. There is, for example, no "Record Audio only with your explicit permission every time" setting in the Android OS. Options are to either declare that your application may need to use the microphone at some point in time, or to never have access to the microphone. In this case, it allows the "Free Call" feature of providing audio (open a chat in messenger, open the menu, it's an option). Within the application, that's a very specific course of action that you'll definitely be aware of. These permission descriptions are created by engineers who have listed the worst possible action a malicious application could take by using that API. If you have any questions about all this, please feel free to reach out.

Steve Dodd
Steve Dodd

Hi Danny, it seems like people are beginning to understand what "You're the Product" really means. What's most unfortunate is that the privilege consumers have given to businesses of knowing what they are thinking & doing is being abused in some cases. What is most unfortunate is that the Social Media industry has forgotten one key fact. Without the consumer providing all of this valuable information, it will cease to exist. So, if the consumer continues to be "abused" they'll "play" elsewhere and those "abusers" of the privileges provided will cease to be relevant . Fundamentally, what we are seeing is a rapid move (hundreds of millions of users) towards private services (Skype, Wechat, BBM, Whatsapp, Line, Viber and many others). Your post (and personal sentiment) clearly explains why this new social paradigm is emerging. The funny thing is, this eventuality was predicted many years ago, but nobody paid attention.

Leigh Durst
Leigh Durst

And then there's Google... definitely hard to know where to draw the lines and whether it'll be worth it if we do, Danny. I feel the same way you do about this stuff. It sickens me and there isn't a week that goes by that my husband and I don't think of doing the same thing.

Sarah
Sarah

Wow, if people like you are openly sharing their opinion, then I think the end of Facebook's shelf life is really near, Danny! I've publicly announced that I'm fed up with Facebook in July (http://www.simplicityadmins.ch/2013/07/quit-wasting-time-facebook/) for different reasons, but the result is the same. And what you said in your article is so true: Facebook doesn’t deserve the loyalty of its users (including me) that made it what it is. We made them, and now they are abusing our trust. Not cool Mark!

Randy Milanovic
Randy Milanovic

I feel the same way Danny. I lock down permissions. I don't allow my family to connect with me. And I don't ever use the Messenger App except to ask people who message me to use another method. My usage of FB has dwindled to the occasional post or share.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@lornt123 I work with many Android and iOS devs. These are permissions asked for by the vendor (in this case, Facebook) versus being needed for functionality. While the Messenger app *may* need them, the main FB app does not, given FB has stated they see a multi-platform approach as the way forward. Given their recent announcement they want to record audio when you're watching TV shows, and it further isolates them as a company that wants more info and data than needed.

Latest blog post: The Dilution of Choice

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

If you look at SnapChat, and how they promoted their app's privacy (based on the fact everything was deleted after three seconds or so), and then how that was so spectacularly debunked by hackers, as you say, privacy seems to be a long-gone thing. All we can do is take a stand and limit access as much as possible.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

For sure, and that's one of the reasons they continue to plough ahead, regardless of user feedback. Thing is, every company has its tipping point - just look at MySpace, Friendster, Google Wave, etc. While Facebook may be a behemoth, that's not to say the little guys can't bring it down if enough start to leave or use it less, because the experience is less fun.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

The irony on their sign-up page always made me smile, but now particularly: "Free, and always will be." Guess it depends on how you define freedom, mate...

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Hi Mitch, That's exactly how Facebook and other networks grab us - the ease in which we can connect with long-lost friends and family members. However, there are ways around that - noodling a follow-up post on this very topic. Cheers, sir, hope you're keeping well.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

You know there's an issue when someone in computer security is damning a platform. now if only more can start to understand why this is the case... Cheers, Gerry.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Hey there Jeff, Thanks for taking the time to drop by and share Facebook's part, appreciated. While you mention this is Android terminology (which would make sense, given my friends with iPhones don't see this wording), normal uses would not differentiate between these being Facebook or Android permissions (I place myself in this group, even though I use apps and read the terms frequently). Although there's no "explicit permissions". the wording (which I saw when I was installing the Android app) does make it sound like users are handing over a major amount of permissions to Facebook. Given the ongoing concerns. re privacy in Facebook's main site (away from mobile), you can understand why this seems like another way for Facebook to play with the trust given to it by end users.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Hey there Steve, Great point - and, going by recent reports and data, more users are coming to that conclusion and leaving Facebook for more attractive pastures. Of course, how long these remain that way has yet to be seen... ;-)

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

It's funny, I always used to put Google ahead of Facebook when it came to questionable practices. Lately, though, seems the Big G has grown up and is now the lesser of two evils (for want of a better description). Cheers, Leigh!

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Thanks for the heads up on your piece, Sarah, look forward to checking it out. The issue (for many, it would seem) is that, despite clarification from Facebook representatives like Jeff Ferland below, the platform puts too much onus on users being up-to-date with every single change on the platform. That's not realistic, and until ToS and similar are more user-friendly, and proactively shared, then the same issues will continue to play out.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

I hear you, mate. There are too many examples of privacy faux pas and questionable settings to see them as a blip.

Steve Dodd
Steve Dodd

Totally agree Danny, but so far they are all resisting the "pull" and working on ways to monetize through "invited engagement" and closed networks to protect the subscribers. All (except Whatsapp so far) have enabled brands to engage with members directly and "privately" for fees but have not release or opened up the privacy of their subscribers to anyone. Whatsapp, on the other hand, is a fee based (99 cents per year), ad free service and so far is the king of them all!

Trackbacks

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