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Have you ever known something was going on, you knew it wasn’t good, but you just didn’t want to know? Like calling to get the results of your physical when you knew you’d been eating like every day was Fat Tuesday? Or going online to see just how big the balance on your American Express was a few days after Christmas?
Well, that’s sort of been my deal with Facebook. I strongly suspected that they weren’t exactly being on the up and up with most of us in terms of what they were doing with our information. But I didn’t really push because I knew if I did it wouldn’t be good. But last night during a break between basketball games in the NCAA Tournament, I did.
Facebook allows you to download the information they apparently are selling all over the world like an ice cream vendor on a hot day at Myrtle Beach, which I did. At first, I didn’t think it was such a big deal. There were folders and folders of pictures I had posted since 2009, and it was sort of nice to have them all in one big place if I ever wanted to find one. Over time, thanks to the advances in cameras on our phones, I’ve accumulated a lot of great pics and they are spread all over multiple computers and devices in my home. The good ones, I thought, are in this Facebook folder.
But then I started looking at the folder marked “html” and clicked on “ad.htm”. There were about 35 ad categories Facebook determined I should be part of. There was a history of every ad I’d ever clicked on. There were advertisers who were sold my contact info, many of whom I had never done business with and never will do business with.
Click on your profile info, and it’s the same as you’d see online. Click on contact info, however, it’s the email addresses of every person in your personal contacts. I must have early in my Facebook history approved an app that accessed my contacts and they are all there, probably sold to other companies.
The comes the histories. Every post, every pic, every video, every direct message, everyone you’ve friended, everyone you have unfriended…it’s all there with dates and times. Every time you logged into Facebook? It’s there too with date, time, IP address, the ID number of your device, the browser you used…everything.
I’ll admit I was probably naïve with this. I thought I was playing on a protected playground, where because of the way the “Friends” structure was set up, I controlled who could or who couldn’t see what I was up to. As it turns out, I controlled nothing, and if I’m going to write things for the world to see, I figured I might as well go back to writing on my own website. Only difference is I won’t be selling my own information to the world.
A friend described the situation not so much as “control” but more “trust.” Every online company from Apple to Microsoft try to get as much info as possible from you under the guise of making your online experience more pleasureable. Some – like Apple – are working hard to earn trust by encrypting everything to the point that if you lose your password, you’re out of luck. Apple is making it as hard as possible for anyone other than you and your password to see your data.
But Facebook, the more I read, is on the reckless and cavalier side. I always knew we were all providing the content for the Facebook empire. But we were also apparently the plant food for their data mining plantation, reminding me of the old adage at poker games: If you look around the room and can’t find the mark, well, then the mark is probably you.
So after downloading everything, I’ve deleted my Facebook account. All my corny jokes, puns and pictures of great meals will be sprinkled in among my opinions on everything else in the world. I’ll still be on Twitter, but since Instagram is also owned by Facebook, I’ll be dropping that soon too.
And I suppose if my old friends don’t come join me on my own site, I could do something really extraordinary: I could actually pick up the phone that never leaves my pocket, dial a number...and talk to someone…