So, I’m leaving Facebook. Not just the actual app, but all things controlled by the company. This has been a long time coming, and in truth I have battled to pull the trigger over a roughly 3 year period, but it is time to cut ties. I suspect many will think I am mad, and that is ok. I don’t expect others to follow, although I do hope some will at least look into their own usage of Social Media and perhaps make a few changes.
Why I’m Leaving Facebook?
To be honest Facebook isn’t the only app/company that I hope to move away from, but I have decided to cut ties there first as their track record is not great to say the least. Some of the other companies like Google, and possibly Twitter, I still hold out hope that they can improve and transition to a more privacy centric approach, but I will have to keep an eye on them too.
Getting back to Facebook; I first started worrying about what has been labelled ‘surveillance capitalism‘ some years back. I’ve always known that if I wasn’t paying for something then I was essentially the product being sold, but what has always annoyed me that there has never been an opt-out. Why can’t there be an option to pay for Facebook, Twitter, Google, and many other platforms, and in return you get to keep your privacy? If you use back of the envelope maths you can workout that Facebook is making around $30 per active user annually. Why isn’t there the option to pay $3 a month for the service? The same goes for Google, although they are making much, much more per user and the figure is probably closer to $100 per active user annually.
Going on the above you would be right to ask, “well then, why not get rid of Google first?” They are clearly making more money off of an individual users data, but it is more than just the selling of the data, or the selling of advertising linked to that data. Over the past few years Facebook has repeatedly been exposed as being somewhat careless (putting it politely) with user data. The most notorious incident in recent years, for many South Africans anyway, was the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Because of this I have lost hope of Facebook ever turning itself around. There is an old adage that if someone keeps ‘saying’ one thing, whilst constantly ‘doing’ the complete opposite, then perhaps what they are doing is what they always intended.
The leaking of Data, followed by a weak apology with the promise it won’t happen again, has just happened one too many times for me.
What about Google?
Well, it is a problem, especially when looking broadly at the issue of surveillance capitalism, but for the most part Google in my opinion has done a better job at protecting users data. It is also a series of tied together apps and websites which makes it far easier for users to only use part of the service whilst ignoring bits they don’t want. You can use Youtube without using Gmail, or perhaps you can opt into using Gmail without making use of Google search. With Facebook everything is far more tightly integrated into almost a single platform, and whilst you can opt of of using certain features like Events, messaging, or Pages, it is far harder to do (more on this later).
Google’s big cash cow has always been search, or more likely the ads they sell/place whilst people are using search. For a number of years I have been using DuckDuckGo (DDG), and whilst it took a little getting used to, I have been very happy using the service. No, DDG doesn’t charge the user either and also makes money through advertising, but unlike Google the ads are sold based on the search term and are not based on the users private information.
By simply using a different search engine I have opted out of a lot of Googles tracking of my Data. I have also installed these browser plugins and exclusively use Firefox (Desktop & Mobile) setup using the recommendations of PrivacyTools.io. DDG is proof that there are other workable models that don’t have to rely on tracking a users every move. So successful have they been that since 2011 they have been supporting other like-minded projects and companies.
I am also transitioning off of Gmail and switching to ProtonMail. I know that Google stopped ‘scanning’ emails some time ago, and never has if you were a Google Workspace (Formerly G Suite) client, but I like ProtonMail and the fact that communication between ProtonMail users is end-to-end encrypted. I can also send encrypted emails to people on other email platforms if need be, but hopefully more platforms embrace built-in end-to-end encryption in the future.
So, with the exception of Youtube and the My Business app, I have largely moved on from Google. I also make every effort to block their ad related trackers and analytics cookies by using the above mentioned Browser plugins. For now this is a level that I am happy with. It has been easy to live with and i’ve had to make few, if any, sacrifices.
What about Instagram & WhatsApp?
Well, as I mentioned at the beginning, all things Facebook are going to go. These two are the toughest in a sense, but for different reasons. WhatsApp has become the ubiquitous messaging app globally. Everyone is on it which makes it convenient, but it is also leaking a lot of your info to Facebook. The messages remain encrypted, which is excellent, but I think users will be surprised just how much info can be obtained from the unencrypted metadata. After all, Facebook paid in excess of $19 Billion for WhatsApp and they are now needing their pound of flesh. I will be switching to Signal and have chosen to avoid Telegram. Telegram has its issues and isn’t end-to-end encrypted by default.
As a quick eye-opener, here is the info Signal collects from you:
Compare that to the Data WhatsApp collects:
Instagram is a difficult one as I think photographers are almost expected to have an Instagram account. It also only really works on your device as you can’t post to Instagram from the browser version on the app. This makes it a near mobile only app which in and of itself has its problems. Apps enable developers to get a lot of information from you without the average user being able to do much about it. At lease when using the browser version of an app you can use browser extensions and other means to block a lot of the tracking. For those on iOS who want to block trackers on their device I do have two recommendations. One is Privacy Pro. The basic service is free, but there are options you can add-on. According to the App Store privacy data they do not collect any info from you. The other option is Guardian Firewall + VPN. This one is a subscription based service, but it does have a $0.99 day pass for those wanting to try it out. It too doesn’t collect any of your data.
To be honest I never used Instagram near as much as others did, or as much I perhaps I should have. This has made turning it off quite easyfor me, but I suspect others would have a much harder time.
So where to?
Well, I’m still on Twitter and LinkedIn, although I suspect my time on Twitter will soon come to an end as well. I largely use it as a news aggregator, although I do vent some steam there as well 🙂 I’ve been going back to using RSS feeds which I check once a day. I follow the sites, blogs, and channels I like and have their latest stories feed into my RSS reader. It is working well.
I am not too active on LinkedIn and frankly have never really seen the benefit so many others have. Perhaps this is because I haven’t been active, but I suspect that it works better for some industries, and not so well for others. LinkedIn also haemorrhages a large amount of your data to 3rd party advertisers so perhaps it is time to move on as well.
Lastly, I will be making use of this site for more than I ever have. Initially it was really just to host a portfolio of work, but as time passed I started experimenting with blogging and other such things. I think going forward far more of what I do will be posted here and not elsewhere, and I will make every effort to drive visitors to my website.
One thing that has always bugged me about the various social media platforms is just how much time we spend curating our business pages and profiles on them. What happens when these sites seize to exist? what happens to the follows, fans, or fanatics you have built up? Where is your perfectly curated timeline?
Don’t laugh! If you really think Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the others will be around forever you are not betting on these companies succeeding, but rather on technology failing. If people are still using Facebook and the others in 20 years time then surely we have failed? After all, how many of you still pop into Myspace to see if someone has a profile?
With Web 3.0 looming, and blockchains and decentralisation becoming ever more important, I’m betting on technology. I’m getting off these platforms mainly for privacy reasons, but also because I’m not sure I see a future in them, at least in their current form.