Why I’m thinking of quitting Facebook

A not-so-hypothetical situation: It’s the Christmas season, and you’re doing a little bit of online shopping. You click over to Amazon, or eBay, or another one of 40 or so sites, and make your purchase. And the next thing you know, all of your “friends” on Facebook get an update in their Facebook News Feeds: “DaniGirl just bought Season Six of Smallville on DVD from Amazon.com.” What, you didn’t see the little pop-up window warning you that your purchase was about to be added to your Facebook account? Oh well, hopefully the “friend” you were buying the gift for doesn’t read his news feed that day.

As if that weren’t creepy and disturbing and Orwellian enough for you, how about the fact that you are automatically signed up for this “feature” and to opt out you have to do so on a case-by-case basis.

Here’s how the CBC describes “Beacon”, the latest new “service” on Facebook (thanks to Barbara for the link):

For example, when you engage in consumer activity at a partner website, such as Amazon, eBay, or the New York Times, not only will Facebook record that activity, but your Facebook connections will also be informed of your purchases or actions.

If you buy a book on Amazon, a little bit of code is embedded within that site then sends the data to Facebook and informs your friends that you’ve bought a particular book. Or say you’re surfing the recipe/food site Epicurious and rate or comment on a few recipes, again your Facebook friends will be notified of your culinary interests, as will Facebook itself and their advertising partners.

Thus where Facebook used to be collecting data only within the confines of its own website, it will now extend that ability to harvest data across other websites that it partners with. Some of the companies that have signed on to participate on the advertising side include Coca-Cola, Sony, Verizon, Comcast, Ebay — and the CBC. The initial list of 44 partner websites participating on the data collection side include the New York Times, Blockbuster, Amazon, eBay, LiveJournal, and Epicurious.

The idea, of course, is that if you see a friend buying a certain product or using a particular website, you’ll take that as an endorsement for that product or service. It’s insidious and creepy, and may be the achievement of advertising’s Holy Grail: ads that don’t seem like ads at all. You may also find your profile picture beside paid ads for whatever product or service you bought. Imagine it: “Trojan Condoms with extra sensitivity, now available from Amazon.com. DaniGirl bought a box yesterday!” with my profile pic of me – and the boys, no less – beaming out at you.

MoveOn.org offers a flash demo of how Beacon works. I’ve been trying to figure out the technology behind the tracking of purchases, and while I’m sure it must use some sort of tracking cookie, I can’t find any information about exactly how it’s triggered.

Now, you know I’m not anti-advertising, and I’m not even all that vigilant about protecting my personal information online. I think the nature of most bloggers leaves them fairly laissez-faire about sharing information about their activities and interests online in a public forum. When the Sitemeter / Specificclick blogstorm passed through (Sitemeter was installing “spyware” tracking cookies to report web behaviour back to an advertiser) I made sure to switch to a tracking-free account, but I wasn’t alarmed enough to stop using Sitemeter because of it.

This time, however, I’m seriously considering using these instructions to not only deactivate my Facebook account but to delete it entirely. (Facebook doesn’t allow you to simply delete an account, it just lets you put it into dormancy, leaving all the juicy personal details you’ve added intact in its databanks.)

At the very least, I’ve signed the petition at MoveOn.org, which required the use of a fake zip code, since they don’t seem to be receptive to Canadian signatories — ironic, because Facebook is far more popular here than in the US.

I have to admit, I don’t use Facebook much anymore these days anyway. I sign on every day to play a couple of ongoing games of Scrabulous, but I haven’t perused my own News Feed in a while. If Facebook reconsiders its position and makes Beacon an opt-in system like most of its applications, I’ll probably keep a stripped-down account just so I can keep my toes in the social-networking waters. While it’s a fun toy, I can’t say that Facebook has been an incredibly useful tool, or even as much fun as blogging. I don’t think I’d miss it.

What do you think? Do you have a Facebook account, and does this freak you out, or is this just something we’re going to have to get used to in an increasingly transparent online world?

Author: DaniGirl

Canadian. storyteller, photographer, mom to 3. Professional dilettante.

26 thoughts on “Why I’m thinking of quitting Facebook”

  1. Wow.

    Seriously. Wow.

    I’ve never signed up for Facebook. I was all too happy to leave high school behind, and had absolutely no desire to resurrect it within the Facebook arena. I’ve seen friends seriously contemplating whether or not to “add” someone to their profile, someone that they don’t even particularly like. I’ve seen an unprovoked attack on my husband by some random person he went to university with. Why? Just for the hell of it.

    But not being able to permanently delete an account? That’s utterly ridiculous and infuriating. As is the idea that they are starting to stream in your purchases. The whole thing makes me sick.

    Never joined facebook. Never will. Thanks for giving me two more good arguments in support of my decision when people ask/harp on me to join, as they inevitably do. (Sorry for the rant… my two cents, for what they’re worth.)

  2. I read about this on CTV news this morning! I’m shocked! I have been growing tired of Facebook too. I can’t think of interesting answers for my status anymore, for starters! And the endless application requests are annoying. I’m with you, I could do without it.

  3. Wow, I didn’t know they had done that type of stuff. I don’t want anyone knowing was kind of purchases I do. Initially I found facebook fun. Now I find myself, like you, checking on it daily but nothing much is going on. Everyone’s activity has leveled off. I will have to keep my eyes open wider, I am just too trusting of this type of thing.

  4. I’m a big fan of facebook… just for fun, to chat with my friends, look at new pictures, etc… the reason I find it secure is that you can pick and choose who you are friends with. So basically my friends are actually my real friends, a whole bunch of Greeks I have grown up, old high school friends (some selected ones!), and old and new co-workers.
    There is a place under privacy setting where you can make sure none of your info is made public… I’m sure you’ve looked into this… the whole facebook craze had died down, that’s for sure… but I still think it’s kinda fun…

  5. See this?

    *holds up index, middle and ring fingers*

    I am telling Facebook – and all the sites that are providing my information – to read between the lines.

    I am waiting for a list of participating sites to be exposed, so I can also choose where and where not to shop online.

    There’s a saying – The genius is not the person who invents something. The genius is the one who learn to make money from it.

    So, Bravo, Facebook on the technology. BOO, those who are profiting off the backs of those who are letting it happen. And BOO those who let it pass for the mere pleasure of being nosy.

    Perhaps a New Year’s resolution to pick up the damn phone is in order for me.

  6. I use facebook every day. It’s how I communicate with members of several community groups I belong to and how I keep in touch with a group of writerfriends. I am freaked out by this new thing, but I am giving it a little while to develop before I make a decision. My feed list is pretty limited and I have my privacy settings high and I don’t shop a lot online, so it may not affect me greatly personally.

    But I am offended by the fact that it is happening to other people, I’m just not sure how I will act on that offense yet.

  7. That’s CRAZY! Wow… hhhmmm funny thing- makes me reconsider shopping online (weird how its not making me reconsider facebook). Seriously that’s not that cool… at all.

    I can’t help but hold facebook near and dear to my heart- it’s how nao’r found me after all these years… so I’ve got a soft-spot for it. Ijust hope his presents I bought for him online don’t show up on there!

  8. I can just imagine it! ” Caitlin just bought a Big Boy, 25% off, at Vibrators’r’us.com”! Good thing I don’t have a credit card…and, you know, I’m chaste.

  9. I am always on Facebook..it’s crazy. I have a few email addresses and use one for stuff like that and a different one for eBay, online shopping, blogging etc..I’ve done some online shopping in the last couple of weeks and nothing has shown in my profile on facebook.

  10. I’m not on Facebook – and I’ve been looking for a good reason to justify the suspicion I feel about it. This made my day!

    (The evil! The evil!)

  11. *sigh* I avoided Facebook for a long time, and still have just the ‘original’ page (I refuse to add any applications that come from an unknown 3rd party) because the sheer volume of personal information being filtered through Facebook’s servers every day makes me nervous. This information about purchase tracking is making me seriously consider removing may account (thanks for that link too, Dani). I wonder how many people have absolutely no idea it’s happening?!

  12. I love Facebook…also use it to communicate with a number of groups, organizations, reunions, etc. I do NOT understand how Facebook would know that I bought a Spiderman pinball on Toys R Us.ca and broadcast it at that. I really don’t understand.

    Even if I didn’t link to the online retailer thourhg Facebook? How the hell do they know I do Facebook? I use different email addresses, does that help?

    I don’t get it. If it gets dangerous, I’ll stop using Facebook, but not being able to completely delete my profile? That is WAY too creepy for me.

    Is this legal?

  13. I just wrote my first blog entry in months because I’ve been junk food addicted to Facebook. I just got to thinking that facebook is completely mind numbing and that I had better get back to reading words that are written by people that actually challenge me to think, and I came here first. And what do I find? More frightening Facebook info. I’m so glad that I do not conduct much if any business online. That is so scary! Thank you for writing that, Dani!

  14. I used a pretty dormant email address for my facebook account – one that is not linked to any other online site – so I don’t have to worry as much about that Beacon app, but I’m a bit annoyed that it was added without alerting the users that this information would now be included on their feed…Not okay at all….

  15. Yeah… I saw this too. Creepy is right.

    Facebook isn’t so much fun anymore. I don’t check into it nearly as much as I used to. I never offered up that much info about myself to begin with (like the parts where you fill in your favourite music/tv shows… I always figured that was being sold off to the highest bidder) but I just pulled the link to my Flickr photos and have removed some apps.

    You can’t get somethin’ for nothin’ … I think we all forget this from time to time.

  16. I use facebook daily…but I don’t shop online. I like going on the hunt for just th right Christmas gift. IT”S the only time I like shopping. My friends are limited. And I have denied people. People I have no use for in the past and don’t need to be asscoiated with in the present.

    Although I came across on thing on Facebook that freaked me out and If I sent it to you Dani..>I’m way sorry. BUT I know you wouldn’t have added it. I removed it with him 3 min of adding the appicaltion. I was creepy.

    Mainly I’m a scarblous addict. If I don’t ahve 10 to 12 games going I’m in a panice…And loose so much. LMAO!

  17. I’m on Facebook primarily to keep tabs on family. I feel like the Ted Kaczynski of Facebook, though, holed up in my little cabin in the woods. I don’t take anyone up on the myriad of invitations that get thrown my way and I am extremely leery of my presence there. When all my friends were informed of my birthday even though I opted to hide that info, I was deeply freaked out.

  18. I have been shopping a lot online and you know that privacy is my schtick. I have not seen anything on my profile and, when I look at the news feeds on the subject, I too, am confused with how Amazon would even know I have a facebook profile. I did not yet sign the petition but I am certainly more aware and watching closely. Opt -out (unfortunately) meets the legal requirements for the site but it must be a PR nightmare for them.

  19. Hopped over from BubandPie’s space.

    Sheesh, first the whole breastfeeding issue with Facebook, and now THIS? They’re crossing a lot of lines, aren’t they? Orwellian indeed – it’s scary.
    I reactivated my Facebook account after ages a few weeks ago. After a week of writing on walls and sending people drinks, it died out. I’ve had enough spam, thank you. And spam is worse when sent by “friends”.

    And now I’m off to delete my account. Thanks for the info!

  20. My goodness. I am so not going to create a facebook account. Thanks for the heads up.I am happy on Orkut. For now. If it ever starts doing stuff like this, I will quit it entirely. do have profiles up at several places for professional reasons, but I think i start using a separate account for all of that.

  21. (here via bub & pie…)

    My main reason for not using facebook is that they classify breastfeeding photos as obscene. But this is another BIG reason why I will never, never, be a facebook user.

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