Facebook is a social networking site that allows users to connect with friends, relatives, and other associates. Facebook is also a platform that provides a “Graph API,” which allows developers to scrape information on users and their relationships.

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In the Wake of #DeleteFacebook, It’s Time to Rethink The Free Internet Economy

In the wake of what the media has misrepresented as the “Facebook data breach” by the British Firm Cambridge Analytica, Facebook has lost users, lost high-profile company pages, and most importantly to them, lost value.

The #DeleteFacebook hash tag’s popularity has hockey-sticked as have Google queries for the search term delete facebook. The torches and pitchforks are out. The townsfolk are angry. And they should be.

We Have a Right to be Angry

But our anger shouldn’t be entirely aimed at the dorky billionaire possibly cloistered away at his private Hawaiian beach. If you need to blame someone for violating your privacy, you should start by blaming yourself.

I have no love for Facebook.  Or social media in general. I encourage you to delete your Facebook simply to regain control of your schedule and mental well-being.  But it won’t solve this problem because Facebook is a symptom, not a cause.

I’m aware my opinion isn’t popular. So let me explain.

What Did the Trump Campaign Do?

During the 2016 presidential election, the Trump campaign hired a British firm called Cambridge Analytica to manage their online campaigning. The campaign tasked the firm with building a useful voter database and using it to change hearts and minds. This strategy is not the stuff of scandal. For better or worse, this is the life-blood of modern American political campaigns.

Do you remember the movie Inception? It’s like that. But instead of implanting thoughts in our heads with futuristic dream travel technology, they do it with ads so targeted to our headspace that we think their idea and the resulting change in our behavior were ours all along.

Summary: The Trump campaign collected detailed profile data on voters that most believed was private. They leveraged this data to develop microtargeted campaign messaging that was often untruthful, with the goal of playing to the voters’ owns hopes and fears to swing their vote. This is common. But this is not OK.

What Did Cambridge Analytica Do?

Cambridge Analytica developed a Facebook personality test app that tens of thousands of users installed and shared.  When the app was installed it requested permissions to read information about the user’s connections (“friends”) and their demographic data. Facebook essentially allowed users to permit apps to read their friend’s profiles.

On its surface, the app did what it claimed to do.  But behind the scenes, the app was used to data mine demographic information on millions of Americans.

Cambridge Analytica claims that by using data mining and microtargeting, they can zero in on the needs of specific voting blocs and deliver ads that can change voting behavior. A former employee leaked their blueprint for winning the presidency.  Spoiler Alert: he won. They helped.

Summary: Cambridge Analytica developed a Facebook platform application that did one innocuous thing on its surface, but behind the scenes gave Cambridge Analytica access to detailed profile information for both the users and the user’s Facebook friends.  The app took advantage of the fact that very few people paid attention to app permissions and did what so many free online services do: offer something useful in exchange for data. It’s common. But it’s not OK. (More on this later.)

What Did Facebook Do?

Not much.

I don’t mean that Facebook didn’t play a pivotal role in this fiasco.  Inaction was their choice, and inaction turned this from a design flaw into a scandal.

Facebook required users to authorize permissions when they installed the app manually.  But once a user gave Facebook apps permissions, they didn’t concern themselves with how they used it. Former employees have claimed that it was Facebook’s internal policy to not look at how the data was used because then they’d be responsible for what they found.

Summary: Facebook developed a social platform and allowed third-party programmers to build apps on it. Facebook’s platform required apps to ask for permissions.  But the permissions were far too broad and could be used to read profile data on users other than the one using the app. In Facebook’s business model user data is the product they sell. Looking too closely into how that data gets used would jeopardize their business. Their business model does not incentivize privacy.  This is how the Internet’s “Free Economy” works. There is nothing OK about it.

What Did Do?

“What did I do to cause this?” is the question nobody is asking.  But it’s the most important.

The Trump campaign hired Cambridge Analytica to mine private data and use it to change behavior. Cambridge Analytica built an app to harvest data by taking advantage of Facebook’s overly permissive app platform, and the psychological fact that users are terrible at reading and understanding terms and permissions. Facebook built a platform that’s free to use but sells our data and sells moments of our lives (“engagement”) to advertisers.

But there’s one thing that’s required for all their plans to come together: they need you to play along.

You signed up for Facebook.

You installed the app.

You neglected to read the fine print.

You gave the app permission to harvest your data.

You gave the app permission to harvest your friends’ data.

You neglected to read Facebook’s terms and signed up anyway.

You agreed to let Facebook sell moments of your life by way of engagement with targeted ads the moment you signed up.

You agreed with the message of the ads because they confirmed your existing beliefs rather than challenge them.

You didn’t fact-check the message because that takes time and could challenge your existing beliefs.

You helped the message spread because it confirmed your existing beliefs.

You decided, explicitly or not, that all this was better than paying for whatever value you think you’re getting from Facebook.

It’s Time to Rethink the Internet Economy

The behavior of the Trump Campaign, Cambridge Analytica, and Facebook is the rule. It is not the exception.

If it weren’t Donald Trump, it would be his opponent. Cambridge Analytica’s programmer is hardly the first coder to build disingenuous software. Except for the open source movement, that’s the free software model. Facebook isn’t doing anything with its data that other social networks wouldn’t do as well, or have done in the past.

And it’s all because we expect the Internet to be free.

Ideas mature. They get reconciled with reality.  They get old. They sell out. My punk-rock high school friends work at banks now. Rock & roll lost its edge and became a commodity. And the Internet isn’t pirated games, and it isn’t Napster anymore.

But it’s built by folks who cut their teeth on it. And now they have kids to feed.

You, me, and billions of others decided we like free so much that we’re willing to sell out our friends, our privacy, our democracy, and even our thought processes in exchange for free service.  We barely consider what those services are, and if they make our lives better.

We need to have a conversation about the real price of free service, and whether it’s worth the social cost.

 

how to leave facebook the right way featured image

5 Steps to Leave Facebook the Right Way

I hate Facebook. No, that’s a lie. I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook, and both emotions have the power to keep me unintentionally captivated by the nonsense going on in my feed. One thing I know for sure is that I have to leave Facebook.

A friend mentioned a few weeks ago that she was quitting social media to make her communication more intentional.

Intentional communication.

What a concept. Her words struck a chord with me and ever since I’ve been experimenting with ways to solve my Facebook addiction.

I’m a web marketer. How the Hell can I quit social media?

Here’s how. I need a Facebook account to access pages that I manage. That’s unavoidable. But I want to separate myself from the day-to-day drama of social media. So I’ve developed a few simple steps to help you wipe your account’s information, and the ability to communicate with you through Facebook, while still retaining your ability to log in and manage pages.

Step 1: Back up your Profile Data

Inevitably you’ll want to contact someone you were friends with on Facebook, or you’ll want to reference some long-forgotten post or message. Facebook offers a way to download a backup of your Facebook profile. Click here to learn how to backup your profile. This operation will generate a ZIP file with your Facebook history, Facebook contacts, and more. Is it in a useful format? Eh. Not really. Most of the information comes in an HTML file. You can open in a web browser and manually copy/paste what you need.

how to download your facebook data

Leave Facebook Step 1: Go to your General Account Settings and click “Download a copy of your Facebook data.”

Step 2: Delete Your Facebook Activity

It’s a well-established fact that deactivating your Facebook profile doesn’t delete anything. And remember: I need my account active, so deactivating or deleting my account aren’t good options anyway. But I want to be able to

  • Remove my relationship with all of my friends.
  • Remove as much of my Facebook history as possible so my kids can’t find evidence of what an ass their dad was.

Fortunately, a smart programmer has found a way!

Install Google Chrome if it’s not already your browser of choice, and then install the F___book Post Manager Chrome plugin. Log in to your Facebook account and navigate to your Activity Feed. Open the plugin and configure it to delete the posts you want to be removed. A word of caution: this operation is aggressive. And it’s buggy. You’ll need to run the plugin several times to remove all your activity. Some activity, such as posts by friends you’re tagged in, just can’t be deleted.

Use the F___book Post Manager plugin to delete your activity

Leave Facebook Step 2: Use the F___book Post Manager plugin to delete your activity

Step 3: Unfriend Everyone

Deleting your friends is the emotionally challenging but most meaningful part of the process. You need to say goodbye to all of your Facebook friends. Why? Because bad associations are a big reason why Facebook sucks. That may be a generalization, but it was certainly true for me. Facebook was a negative influence on my life for three reasons I can identify:

  • My friendships were based on real-world associations, friendships, and family ties. Those relationships didn’t translate well into the digital space.
  • Facebook seems to show content based on it’s potential to keep you on Facebook, not on value to the viewer. Ad revenue powers the Internet. And ads are driven by session duration (engagement). If you’re interested in this topic, listen to Sam Harris’ conversation with design ethicist Tristan Harris. It’ll make you want to punch the Internet in its greedy face.
  • My behavior. I had this idea that people can and should have reasonable conversations about ideas. I would posts questions or facts and try to start a polite discussion. My network of friends would prove me wrong about their ability to discuss ideas like grown-ups and damage my respect for them a little each time. In the end, I had to admit that I could accomplish nothing positive. I was just an accidental troll.

The best resolution for me was to unfriend everybody. Nobody can be mad if you’re treating them the same way you treat your mother, right?

It’s easy. Go to your profile and click the Friends tab. Go through your list and click “Unfriend” to everyone on the list. Depending on the number of associations you have this could take a while, and I didn’t find a faster way to do it.

How To Unfriend your Facebook Friends

Leave Facebook Step 3: Go to your profile and click the Friends tab. Then click “Unfriend” for everybody.

Step 4: Update Your Security and Privacy Settings

Now your Facebook profile has no history and no relationships. How do you keep it that way? You lock down your profile. Go to your Facebook settings and, for once in your sad online life, make use Privacy tab. Here are the settings that I have configured to limit communication and friend requests going forward:

  • Who can see my stuff? Friends (which is nobody) You can also restrict the audience on old posts since there is probably some content that was not deleted by Step 2.
  • Who can contact me? Friends of friends (which is nobody)
  • Who can look me up? Friends (for all settings)
A screenshot of my Facebook privacy settings, configured to allow minimal contact.

Leave Facebook Step 4: Facebook privacy settings for minimal contact.

Step 5: A Final, Public Post

This last step is optional but recommended. Write a final post on your Facebook profile that lets people know that you’re no longer using Facebook, you will not see or respond to their messages, and how they can contact you going forward. Here’s what I wrote:

Looking for Brian? He’s not here anymore. This Facebook account only exists so I can log in and manage my clients. DO NOT POST. DO NOT MESSAGE ME. I will not see it.
If you need to contact me, for business or personal reasons, go to my business page and find my contact info.

Conclusion

As of this moment I’ve been off of Facebook for two weeks. I feel good. I feel happier than I did when I was using Facebook. And I feel more productive. I never bothered to measure the amount of time I spend on Facebook, but it had to average out to 1-2 hours a day. That’s a lot of wasted time, especially to a person whose self-employed.

Leaving Facebook was the right choice for me. And leaving it intelligently by deleting my data trail, removing my associations, and leaving my account intact makes sense for me and my career. But of course, your needs and mileage may vary.

Do you suffer from social media fatigue like me?  Do you have a different way of dealing with it?  Let me know! Leave a comment below.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Use a Frame-Busting Redirect To Authorize Facebook Applications

Here’s a trick I picked up during development of my new Facebook application, My Wishlist. I picked this one up at Stack Overflow.

When you begin developing for Facebook, one of the first trick’s that you’ll learn is how to check for a Facebook session and how to redirect the user to the Facebook login page if they aren’t logged in or haven’t authorized your application.  Usually that code looks something like this:

<?php
$fb = new Facebook(array(
    'appId' =&gt; 'XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX',
    'secret' =&gt; 'XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX',
    'cookie' =&gt; true
));
 
$session = $fb-&gt;getSession();
 
if($session)
{
    // TODO Show your application's canvas.
}
else
{
    // Redirect the user:
    header('Location: ' . $fb-&gt;getLoginUrl(array(
        'next'   =&gt; $_SERVER['PHP_SELF'],
        'canvas' =&gt; 1,
        'display' =&gt; 'page'
    )));
}

If you’re developing an Iframe-based Facebook application (soon to be the only option since FBML has been deprecated), you’ve got a real problem: The redirect will happen within your application’s IFrame, with the actual login page content hidden within the frame. You’ll recognize the problem because it will look a little something like this:

This is what happens when you redirect to the login page within a Canvas-based Facebook application.

This is what happens when you redirect to the login page within a Canvas-based Facebook application.

The solution to this problem is to use what I call a Frame-Busting Redirect using JavaScript:

<?php
$fb = new Facebook(array(
    'appId' =&gt; 'XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX',
    'secret' =&gt; 'XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX',
    'cookie' =&gt; true
));
 
$session = $fb-&gt;getSession();
 
if($session)
{
    // TODO Show your application's canvas.
}
else
{
    // Redirect the user:
    echo "<script>\n";
    printf("top.location.href= \"%s\";\n", $_SERVER['PHP_SELF']);
    echo '</script>';
}

Just Released! My Wishlist for Facebook

I just finished my first Facebook app, called My Wishlist.  It allows users to publish a wishlist of items on Facebook that their friends can view and use for gift ideas.  My goal is to make a new kind of Facebook application: one that’s truly useful and not just a time waster.  Did I achieve my goal? Check out My Wishlist, rip it apart, and leave your feedback in the comments!

Kill It With Fire! How Facebook is Assimilating and Destroying the Internet

It began as a trickle.  An email from Windows Live on behalf of my friend Tricia.  An hour later three more arrive from something called Flixter on behalf of three other friends who signed up for whatever it is the site has to offer. As more websites adapt the new Facebook for Website’s interface in a grab for a slice of their 300 million users, Facebook will quickly become the glue that holds the Web together.  And that’s not a good thing.

The Thing About Glue Is…

Dan Yoder at rocket.ly already outlined 10 Reasons You Should Stop Using Facebook, but let me break it down for you. Facebook is not a responsible steward of your private information and online relationships. As I said, Facebook aims to be the glue that holds the Web together.  But glue–like many building materials–contains formaldehyde, a known respiratory irritant and carcinogen.  In other words it rots your guts from the inside out. Facebook seems to be doing the same to the Web.

If you stay logged into Facebook, any website that implements the new Facebook for Websites API can communicate back to Facebook and perform various actions on your behalf including but not limited to: posting to your wall, and emailing your friends on your behalf. That’s email, not Facebook messages which is an important distinction, especially considering the stringent email archiving requirements of today’s businesses and corporations.  In other words, Facebook and other websites are now sending me emails I have absolutely no control over, and because I work at a school those emails are becoming part of public record.

The Repercussions

I’ve long accepted that anything I do on a social network is public knowledge.  If you don’t want it to be public, then don’t post it online.  This is the law of the land when it comes to Facebook, but do you accept those same conditions for every other website that you visit?

Do you want your coworkers to see a stream of wall posts on your behalf throughout the workday?

Do I want everyone knowing what I rented from Netflix?

For the sake of argument, lets say you’re a closeted atheist/democrat/homosexual/whatever your parents hate.  A stream of your Internet activity would almost certainly out you, were the sites you visit and the news you read to be posted to Facebook.  How would you feel if Facebook came out of the closet for you?  Perhaps angry, perhaps liberated, perhaps thirsty for a lawsuit.

The Internet was never supposed to work like this.  Cookies, the technology that websites use to store data about you as you surf, are “sandboxed” for a reason.  That is, a website can only read cookies that that website has created.  It’s both a safety precaution and a barrier to innovation.  Facebook has breached that barrier and in the process torn that safety net wide open.

What to Do?

Perhaps I’m alone in my reasonable expectation of privacy.  Perhaps not.  But unless something changes, I will be deleting my Facebook account and I won’t be looking back. If you are concerned with privacy and how Facebook uses what used to be personal information about you and your personal relationships, I urge you to do the same.