… i still want to quit Facebook.

My wife and I recently decided to quit Facebook for 30 days. Whether this was inspired by Morgan Spurlock or Doug Benson I don’t remember. Why did we want to quit Facebook? We didn’t, but we wanted to challenge ourselves to see if we could. We also wanted to know if we could find ourselves to be more productive, without pausing to check in every 30 minutes. I discovered some things about FB that I think would be surprising to some and concerning to most.

We’re both pretty rabid users. I log in at least 5 times a day. I remember reading a mobile post from one my friends and thinking, ‘why would I need Facebook on my phone?’ Cut to 2 months later and there I am checking my news feed while I’m in line for coffee. I know I don’t need this much contact with my friends, so what is it that is so captivating? A very small percentage of the updates I receive are even interesting. This doesn’t mean that I think my friends are boring, or that they should only post things that they might think I would be interested in – I just wish I didn’t spend as much of my free time looking to see if anything interesting has occurred.

Although I do kind of hate that there isn’t more content on FB, and by content I mean things aren’t generated by applications. I don’t need to be the one who decides what is “content” and what isn’t. I also don’t need to decide what is useful or interesting, but I really don’t need to know what someone’s farm needs. I don’t consider myself voyeuristic, but I feel a strange kind of social obligation to look at everything that each one of my friends posts and ends up on my news feed. This is almost always a disappointing venture, which has recently led me to be less interested in the goings on of FB in general.

This is where the idea to abstain completely came from; what right do I have to complain about FB? I am choosing to use it, no one is forcing me. If I’m really so dissatisfied, shouldn’t I just spend my time doing something else? Still it’s not that easy, I have 4 computers in my house, and http://www.f-autocomplete + ENTER is only a couple of seconds away. To help ourselves from falling off the wagon we came up with a few measures to keep each other honest. I used a custom DNS service (openDNS.org) to block access from all of my computers.

Long story short it worked and we were able to keep from logging in for 30 whole days. There were plenty of times when I felt like I needed a fix, but instead I turned my attention to my favorite tech blogs and news sites. Recently there have been a lot of concerns over Facebook’s privacy policies, especially since they recently changed their privacy options. In a nut shell, those who had never before tweaked their privacy settings were prompted by a simple dialog box when they logged in that said: changes to Facebook were going to make it easier to customize its privacy settings. Once the user clicked OK then almost all of their Facebook data – photos, profile info, etc. – would become public. Why would they do this? Because the more of your personal info that FB can share, the more they can sell to advertisers for targeted ads. The new privacy settings, the ones that were supposed to be simpler, were actually made much more complicated. As the New York Times points out – there are now “ 50 settings with more than 170 options.” This some say sneaky bait-n-switch by Facebook is concerning for several reasons.

What’s the big deal? Just don’t share things on FB that you don’t want other to see, right? In theory I agree, for myself. I have several co-workers, and even my boss as a Facebook friend and I understand that anything that I post will be viewable by them, but not everyone understands what is public and what isn’t, and this new web of privacy settings makes things really hard for the average person to understand.

Privacy settings aside, it’s the applications that are of real concern. Whenever you grant access to a quiz or application, did you know that they get to look at all of your FB info? Did you know that by default they also get access to your friend’s info? This is how birthday reminder applications know your friends birthdays. These applications aren’t developed by FB, they are made by third parties, and most are for profit – Zynga for instance. So even if you don’t grant access to Farmville yourself, if you don’t adjust your privacy settings, your friends may have granted Zynga access to your data.

After learning more about what FB does with my data I decided to lock down almost all of my settings to “Friends Only” and remove permissions, and granted access from almost all of the applications that I had used previously. I was surprised when I started looking around, that quizzes that I took a year or more ago still had access to my profile. I would encourage most of you to at least take a look at you current settings and lock them down where you don’t feel comfortable sharing with the world. Check out these articles for tips:

Facebook Privacy: A Bewildering Tangle of Options – Nytimes.com

10 Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know – allfacebook.com

So in the end I am still using Facebook, for now, and I don’t feel great about it. The reason that FB came out ahead of Myspace was because it was private-by-default. It’s not like that anymore, and I think this shows a lack of regard for the users. I haven’t quit yet, because FB still is the best way to interact with people I don’t see on a regular basis, but don’t want to lose track of. In the past I actually encouraged people to join, and my continued use, in a way, encourages others continued use. After quitting for 30 days I know that I can quit, and as soon as a better service comes along, or my concerns over Facebook’s policies outweigh its usefulness then I probably will.


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