The reasons are numerous – an accumulation of dissatisfactions, irritations, disturbing posts by “friends,” and so on. But the reason I finally decided to quit Facebook – the event because of which I finally leaped from the precipice of illusory connectivity – happened just the other day to my dad.
Being one of the few holdouts against Facebook, my father finally decided to obtain an account one day, as it was a prerequisite for commenting on a certain online article. He gave Facebook a relatively-unused web-based email address for his account, followed by a false name and false birth date. Facebook rejected the name he provided (it was not much like a real name), so he altered it a bit, and he was in. Upon first logging in to his new account, my dad was met with surprise. A portion of his Facebook home page was suggesting “People you may know.” Those people were my siblings, my mother, and me.
How did Facebook know? I know the answer lies in the interconnectedness of Facebook’s nearly-infinite databases and the nature of online information sharing. But seriously: how did Facebook know? My father gave all false information except for his web-based email address that he hardly uses. Did that email provider give Facebook more information? Did Facebook find other places he had used that email address (perhaps in commenting on my personal blog) and connect the dots?
Does it even matter? The point is, Facebook knew who he was, even when he didn’t want them to. It is as though there was a little gap in all of Facebook’s databases, and that gap was filled when my dad simply clicked “Create Account.” All the connections existed long before he arrived; Facebook was simply waiting for one trivial click.
The situation gets even spookier when one considers modern facial-recognition software. It’s not difficult to imagine that Facebook knows the number of people in my immediate family. After all, my wife, mother, and siblings have used the site for a while, and we’ve all affirmed our familial connections (“How is this person related to you?”). So in family photos – many of which we have posted on Facebook – Facebook can easily see my wife, mother, my siblings, and me, but then there is frequently another male face for which Facebook has no official profile. Well, “had.”
So Facebook very probably knew who my father was and what he looked like before he even arrived on the scene. And this is unsettling.
So I quit Facebook.
“But,” one may contend, “Facebook offers some really great services!”
Of course it does! The ease of communication is what makes the site so valuable. But I never really considered the true cost of that service until the incident with my father. In exchange for a “Share” button, I have given Facebook over a thousand photos of my life, my contact information, my political viewpoints, my consumer preferences, my favorite books and movies, a list of acquaintances, and a list of friends. In a way, I even gave Facebook my father, who – for years – imagined that his life was untouched by and unknown to the company. At that price, Facebook’s not worth it.
So I quit Facebook.
And this departure may very well stick. Because I’ve been there before – most of us have. We got irritated with the new changes, or we read some article about Facebook privacy issues, and we removed our account. But Facebook, like a true friend, remembered everything about us, waiting patiently for our inevitable return. And return we did. But this time, return I will not.
I know – there are privacy concerns with other web applications I’ll continue to use. My identity is “out there,” and it probably always will be. But Facebook, the king of personal data peddling, will no longer have direct access to it. Facebook still knows who I am – or who I have been up to this point. But I will no longer be complicit in telling it who I – or anyone else – will become.