Why I'm Not on Facebook

November 2011

Some of you may wonder why you can't find me on Facebook [anymore]. It's not because I don't like you. Nor because I don't want to stay in touch with you -- really, I do, and I do miss hearing about all the important details of your passing days, seeing those pictures and videos of all of you engaging in general and sundry merriment, reading about all your lives' ups and downs, making lame side comments that maybe 4% of you actually laugh at on a good day. I miss commenting about my own life, and feeling a little bit closer to everyone because of a little extra contact and communication.

Following are the reasons that, despite all of the above, I have chosen not to join you as a member of Facebook. The reasons apply just as well to Google Plus, or any other social network that has and exhibits the same inherent issues.

I hate spam

I dislike unsolicited commercial communication. Of any kind. Via any medium. From any business, company, or corporation. I'm the kind of person that would take a prepaid business envelope, and affix it to an extremely large, extremely heavy box filled with all sorts of unpleasant articles repugnant to a minimum of 2 senses each, and send it back to the spamming company, thereby making them pay the expensive postal cost.

I do not like that businesses attempt to make me aware of a product or service that I really would have never cared for prior to seeing their ad. I especially dislike this sort of thing when the ad arouses in me some inkling of desire for the product or service. I find it irritating to think that I might have X dollars to my name, but would end up with X - 50 dollars on account of me seeing the ad and buying whatever it is -- and if I had not seen the ad, I'd still have my money. Was my life somehow deficient in some significant way before I became aware of this product? No.

The only time I should receive commercial communication is when I ask for it. When I'm specifically looking for something. Such as when I go to a store or mall. Or when I search the Internet for whatever it is I'm looking for. Under these conditions, sure, tell me all about what you have to offer! I'm interested to see what range of options I have available to me, to read reviews on what the best choices are, to get good, informative advice on which among the available competitors' products would be best for my needs.

One of the reasons I don't like Facebook, therefore, is because it has ads. Sure, some of the tech-savvier among us use ad blockers in our browsers. But it's not just the "ads" in the traditional sense of the term. It's all the subtle (but still tangible) ways Facebook informs you of this or that, all with the intent of getting you to spend money on the products and services of its sponsors and advertisers.

I don't like insistent businesses

When I interact with a company, I expect that it respects what I choose when it offers me choices. If I submit my choice to opt out of certain things, I expect not to receive notifications, or see the "features", or otherwise be made to participate in something I have expressed I want no part of.

Facebook has had a history of switching things up, time and again. You might have previously told Facebook, in spirit, that you do not want certain details made public, or shared, or that you don't want to be contacted by them regarding this or that. But then they go make some changes to their privacy policy, or terms of service, or release some new "feature", and along with the change comes some default settings -- which are set to favour Facebook and their advertisers because they are set by default towards publicizing and sharing your private information, rather than keeping it private. Sure, you might (in some cases) be able to go into your Facebook settings and switch the new things off -- but first, you have to become aware that there have been changes at all (Facebook surely isn't going to send you a notification email about it, because they're trying to sneak it under your radar).


I value privacy

I don't want information about me or about the people I know to be given to any person or entity unless absolutely necessary, and unless I give my explicit permission for that information to be shared. Something that many people don't stop to think about is the fact that once private information is publicized, it is very difficult to hide it again. On the Internet, this is pretty much impossible. Information publicization is a one-way door.

I don't want to share my personal information, or my network of friends and family with Facebook, or Google, or any company. I don't want to give any phone numbers or postal addresses to any social networking company -- they are completely irrelevant and unnecessary for facilitating social networking (yet Google and Facebook try to fish these out of you).

Even supposing that Facebook does nothing nefarious with the information I give it, there are the Facebook apps. The majority of Facebook apps require you to release much or all of your private data to them before you can use them. I could hardly trust that every company behind all these apps would keep my information private and do nothing with it without my full knowledge and consent.


I don't like being tracked

When I shop in brick and mortar stores, I am sometimes asked for my postal code at the checkout counter. I always decline. When I visit store websites, and am prompted for my postal code, I try to proceed without giving it. If the site absolutely insists on having a postal code before proceeding to the pages I'm interested in, I give a different postal code.

When I surf, I literally approve or deny every domain's cookies manually. I have my browser set to show me a dialogue window for every domain that tries to set cookies which I haven't already approved or denied. I deny the vast majority of cookies, except for those that are absolutely required for the operation of a site. And that's only for sites that I at least somewhat trust. If I don't trust a site (or don't trust it yet), I use a different browser for the temporary excursion through that site, so the cookies are deposited there instead, and when I do my normal surfing around the net with my primary browser, those cookies won't be there.

What does this have to do with Facebook? Well, you know those Facebook "Like" buttons (and those Google +1 buttons, and everything else like them)? If you're logged into Facebook, or have Facebook's cookies stored by your browser, then you transmit a little bit of tracking info to Facebook every time you click a Like button. In fact, you don't even have to click it; merely visiting a web page with a Like button on it is enough to trigger some data transmission.


I am a person, not a commodity

The idea of having my personal information, my behaviour, my network of friends and family -- in a word, my data -- collected and used for profit by someone or some entity is not an idea that makes me feel warm and fuzzy. In fact, I feel rather opposite feelings when I think of such things. I feel annoyed. I feel dirty. I feel repulsed.

Being on Facebook may be free of monetary cost to you as a user, but the freeness ends there. Being used in this way is as much an affront to human dignity as being leered at. In both cases, you may not immediately feel anything being directly done to you. You might even be able to make yourself "get over it", and ignore it. But that doesn't make it right.

Our human nature instinctively rejects and cries out against this. We know inside that it is wrong to be treated as objects. People are not things. We are not sexual objects, to be looked at or used for pleasure. We are not industrial machines, to be used to produce goods. We are not economical cogs which must "contribute" or else be discarded by society. And we are not ad targets, whose value is measured in clickthroughs.

I prefer independence and freedom

As mentioned, I don't want to give much information to companies. None at all, if possible. But I also don't want to depend on companies for services. I strive to minimize such dependence as much as possible.

I don't use an operating system which is owned by a company. As such, my computing experience is free from the control and manipulation of a company. I am not notified or informed by the company about things that would "improve" my computer. I don't get suggestions from a company about stuff that "should" be on my computer. I don't get things automatically and secretly installed onto my computer which supposedly "protect" me, or "enhance" my experience.

I don't use a webmail provider for my email. I don't use my ISP's email service. I run my own email server. As such, no email provider can read my email. No third-party software scans my email for purposes like preparing targetted advertising. The entire corpus of my personal conversations, password reminders, website registrations, social network notifications, online shopping receipts, and everything else found in my email -- it is not held by any single commercial entity. I am not at the mercy of any email provider, trusting in it to always be available, trusting that it will never lock or shutdown my account, or delete my email.


I don't want to rely on any single company for my social networking. I don't want a company deciding for me what I should read first, or what I should see or not see. I would like to be independent of companies when engaging in social networking. I want to be free to manipulate my social networking experience, and I want my private, personal information (including who my friends and family are) to be kept in a place on the Internet which I trust, under the care of people I trust (optimally, those people would include me).


Epilogue: Where I am instead

I've gone and started up a new project, Libertree.

With Libertree, we can have all of the nice things about social networking without any of the bad things I've mentioned above.

I honestly and earnestly invite you to join me. I assure you that things are better there. And if there's anything we don't like about it, we can go ahead and improve it, because, unlike with Facebook or Google, we have the power, the right -- the freedom -- to change it.