Facebook and Me

Not for the first time, and certainly not the last, Facebook has been caught caring more about protecting revenue than protecting privacy. The Zucker has done his public wincing, which is always more oops than sorry. He and his minions have promised to do better. This case is different in that the evildoers who used Facebook using us have been exposed, which is to say we’ve had a peek at a small amount of the massive manipulations actually occuring behind the curtain in this new world we all live in, which is, afterall, hardly yet an adolescent.

There is the inevitable scurrying about and fretting and deleting. What to do, what to do, what to do? Well, I am no sage in this realm, nor even an apprentice of best practices of any kind. But I have arrived at a few conclusions and remember some of how I got there.

In 1997, futurists Watts Wacker and Jim Taylor published a book titled The 500 Year Delta: What Happens After What Comes Next. I picked it up soon after starting my job at the Specialty Coffee Association of America as I was building my business library. I was fascinated by the book. One of their predictions was that in the not-too-distant future, we would be products, meaning our information, our data (being big or little), would hold intrinsic value and those who wanted it would have to pay for it. Inherent in this “economic model” is the idea that the further the information drills down, the more specific it is, the greater the value. So, the fact that a male, age 45-60, purchased a new car over the last three years is worth something. My exact age, where I live, my education, marital status, religious and political leaning, even without my name, are worth more … a lot more.  

The first question to ask is: Does Facebook pay you enough for your data? The second question to ask is: What is the cost of my “job” with Facebook. If you take a job for $600 a week but it costs you $300 a week for gas and childcare, maybe that job costs too much so you take the job for $500 a week that lets you work at home.

Think of what you get from Facebook, if anything. Maybe you think Facebook takes more out of you than you receive in return, whatever that is for you (and I think it is different for everyone and the value I place on Facebook can only be defined by me). One thing that is different about Facebook compared to your other jobs is you can decide how hard you’ll work and working less will have very little impact on your compensation and you’re certainly not going to get fired. I try and work as little as possible for Facebook. I button up my privacy settings pretty tight. I don’t check them as often as I should as Facebook evolves, but I make some effort. More importantly, go into your setting, click the “Apps” tab and then manage the bejesus out of the apps that are collecting a whole bunch of information you might not even have known about. Most of them can simply be deleted. Some you might want to keep but limit the information they can collect down to a nub. Then click the “Apps Others Use” box and uncheck everything in that puppy.

I also use an add-on caled “Facebook Purity.” It’s not a “solution” but every little bit helps. I should point out that I do these things not out of some delusion that I’m protecting my privacy at a prophylactic level; I do these things because Facebook does not “pay” me enough to have easy access to such valuable information. Definitions and needs around privacy seem increasingly personal and variable to me. But I also don’t trust Facebook to make great decisions (and by that I mean, of course, the decisions I would make in their place) so I want to do my part to limit their ability to be irresponsible with my little data in a big data way.

And just think, if we were all actively limiting the value of Facebook to third party applications and therefore decreasing the value of the data gathering, maybe they would actually have to start paying us for every inch of loosening the reins. It seems to me that then someone would develop software that could quickly review Terms of Use searching for user revenue generating opportunities, engaging an algorithm that would amount to an automated negotiation.

I don’t think we should delete Facebook because there will always be something out there in the virtual world that you want to use and that wants to use you. Learning to manage around them seems a better long-term investment. The change that needs to occur is people taking back control of their information and their personal definition of privacy, whatever it might be, stop pretending like we are not engaged in an economy everytime we open a browser, and demand to get paid. Sound a little out there? Maybe. But I’ll bet that 20 years from now, when my kids randomly stumble across this blog entry while searching dad’s archives for something else, they will look at it as 1,000 words stating the obvious and will have a hard time remembering what it was like to simply give away their information.