Facebook use: less is more (for me)

Facebook has a long track record and sordid history of abusing their users’ trust and privacy, including the most recent and egregious cases currently making headlines with Cambridge Analytica as well as election meddling in the US and Britain. As if that wasn’t enough, it then came to light that they have also been tracking and storing users’ phone call and text message data, including “who contacted whom, what time, and how long the conversation was.”

This is nothing new, as we can see from this 2012 “study” in which they deliberately manipulated news feeds to influence users’ emotional state. And again with their settlement with the FCC back in 2011 (that they likely violated with their recent offenses) over deceiving consumers by telling them their information was private, but then repeatedly sharing it and making it public.

And then there’s The Ugly Memo, in which a FB exec justifies growth at any cost in the name of connecting people, even if that results literally in people dying:

We talk about the good and the bad of our work often. I want to talk about the ugly.

We connect people.

That can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools.

And still we connect people.

The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is *de facto* good.

And up until this most recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook was negotiating with various healthcare organizations to share patients’ health data with FB so they could match it up to your social circle to allegedly provide better health care. Um yeah right.

Each time this stuff happens, they issue an apology (or a justification for their behavior) and promise they will take steps to better inform users and protect their privacy, but it’s clear that this is just lip service at this point.

Then there’s also the issue of social media addiction and how Facebook and other social media use actually creates dissatisfaction and unhappiness. I won’t bore you with a bunch of articles on these topics, but a quick Google search will show that it’s a real thing too.

Facebook’s disdain for their users and my own increasingly habitual use of FB have combined for me to the point where I realized I needed to make some changes. I may at some point go so far as to de-activate or delete my account but FB currently has me in a pickle.

I find their business practices and justification for those practices repugnant. I despise the way they continually abuse user trust and exploit people. Yet some of what allows them to do those things also allows me to keep in touch with extended family and friends in one place. Sigh.

I used to pretty much stay logged into FB in my browser – after all, that made it so convenient just to “pop in” and see what was new with friends and family or watch a funny video, or what have you. But it also made it super convenient for FB to gather data on my browsing habits and serve up ads to the point where I found it invasive and creepy, despite browser ad blocker add-ons.

I noticed I had developed a bad habit of popping into FB whenever I was bored or was just looking for a way to chill, scrolling mindlessly through my feed. I must have wasted countless hours on nonsense, justifying it as part of “keeping in touch” with friends, family, and events. I started to realize that FB was like a digital pacifier. I was quite literally wasting my time away on nothing.

One of the other things I noticed when I was on Facebook regularly, aside from creepy ad targeting, was that I came across several intriguing new products that do a TON of social media ads, like the Purple Bed (and their competitors), Rothy and Tiek shoes, weighted blankets, Bombas socks, Thrive Cosmetics, and others. I found myself starting to develop a consumerist mindset towards some of these products, aka “This looks AWESOME and I must have it!!” I admit I almost ordered a couple of items but I have so far managed not to buy any of it and I don’t feel deprived. 🙂

In short, I started to notice how I was using Facebook and how Facebook was using me. And I didn’t like it.

Months ago, before this latest privacy/user data scandal, I switched to default to a logged-out state. Instead of staying logged in throughout the day, I stayed logged out and only logged into FB from my browser maybe a couple times a day, checking my notifs or just scrolling through my feed and then logged out again. Now I only use FB in an incognito/private browser window, but Facebook is likely still tracking me. However, now when I do log in, I notice the ads and such aren’t nearly as creepy and on-point as they were.

Once I had limited my browser use of FB, I found myself scrolling through my feed a lot more often on my phone. I had essentially replaced one bad habit with another so about a week ago, I braced myself, then deleted the app. No more FB on my phone.

Side note: I had the Messenger app on my old phone for about a day or so a couple of years ago before deleting it. Hated that app, dislike Messenger in general, don’t miss it even a tiny bit.

I’ll admit the first few days after I deleted the app from my phone, I found myself picking up my phone with the intent to mindlessly scroll through FB and then when I remembered I had deleted it, I felt deprived – I was jonesing for a FB fix. That’s a sure sign to me that I did the right thing in removing the app.

Last week, I used the option to view my public profile and I was surprised to learn that every time I changed my profile pic or cover photo, those pictures are public and stay public unless you manually change them to private. I don’t know about you but some of my pics had my kids and other people in them and I was irritated to see that these were all public despite my overall privacy settings. I also realized that there were a couple of “About me” things that I had left public to make it easier for people to find me, so I changed all of that to private.

I also made sure I had no services tied to Facebook using social sign on (you know, where you can log into other services using your FB account). I don’t use that feature with any service (FB, Google etc) since it’s a single point of failure if one account is hacked and also I feel gives FB way too much additional info and power – instead, I use a password manager to set strong unique passwords for each account. The only thing I have connected to FB is this blog so that my posts are automatically shared to FB. I may end up removing that at some point too, particularly since I (and others) have noticed anecdotally that their algorithm does not seem to show blog content shared with a 3rd party tool in news feeds the same way it show it shows posts created directly in FB.

I also downloaded a full copy of my data archive (you should too!) – I’m a little scared to look at it based on articles detailing what others have found in theirs. And I suppose I’ll have to also look to see what Google knows about me too. Sigh.

At least I’m not active on other social media – I don’t tweet, insta, snapchat, pin etc – so that’s less stuff for me to have to worry about locking down.

Related: my post from over a year ago, Who really owns and controls what you publish online?

Image via Wikimedia Commons licensed under Creative Commons

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