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?
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.