Contemplating FaceBook Hara-Kiri

With FaceBook ever encroaching on my privacy, the value proposition of maintaining a profile on the popular social network approaches considerably diminishing marginal utility.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

With FaceBook ever encroaching on my privacy, the value proposition of maintaining a  profile on the popular social network approaches considerably diminishing marginal utility.

For the first year of the one and a half years I interacted with the service, I generally enjoyed using FaceBook. It was a great mechanism for hooking up with old friends, for after-hours chit chat with colleagues and followers of my blogs, and a nice tool for keeping up with the goings on of my friends and family.

I began to rely on FaceBook heavily as a personal information management tool and for contact aggregation. When it was simple, and it did what I needed it to do, it was a good thing.

But there was no "Missing Manual" for using FaceBook or any sort of social network. Nobody told me it was a bad idea to accept every single friend invitation. Nobody told me I wasn't supposed to engage in every single invite to participate in stupid movie quizzes and so forth. Nobody told me that having 50 apps connected to your profile was a bad idea.

In the first six months of using FaceBook I made all the stupid mistakes that FaceBook noobs do, which is that they go overboard. So once I realized all the stupid things I was doing, I began the process of locking things down and minimizing my exposure.

Operation: FaceBook Lockdown

I pulled all the FaceBook apps other than the ones I needed for external API connectivity to Twitter and my blog updates. I told people I would not engage in any more games/quizzes and ignored all group and cause invites. I continued to accept all friend requests, because I thought this was relatively harmless and there was no reason why I couldn't be accessible to all of my readers and fans on FaceBook. So I thought I had things under control.
Well, I was wrong.

About six months ago FaceBook became much more aggressive with their default privacy settings and sharing too much personal information. So now everyone had to get a friggin' security consultant to figure out how to lock down their profiles at an acceptable level of granularity that didn't make them a target for identity theft or God-Knows-What.

Back in November of 2009, our own Zack Whittaker put together a great tutorial for doing this. Unfortunately, Zack's tutorial is now outdated, so I had to write a new one myself. FaceBook has been introducing so many changes on what seems like a monthly or weekly basis that it's nearly impossible to keep track of what is being exposed and what is not.

Also Read: Lockdown or Death for your FaceBook Proflile

Last month was a particularly crappy one for me in terms of time sink and negative effects versus FaceBook value add. As I discussed in a previous post, my FaceBook account was compromised via either direct attack on FaceBook's systems, or via malware that somehow made its way onto one of my own machines or other system that I had used.

Regardless of how the exploit itself came to be, I became the unwilling vector of a huge spam attack on hundreds of my friends. I can't help but think how this effect was or could have been magnified by the level of exposure I have as a writer for both a well-known technology news blog and a high-profile food blog, and the amount of personal information that was able to be purloined by the APIs that FaceBook exposes as a result of my social networking activities.

To say that I am watching all of my credit card balances and bank activity like a hawk after this last breach is a serious understatement.

The Art of Getting Continuously Zuckerpunched

In the last week, FaceBook has made additional changes which further expose even more information and create more "connections" within the site.

The first of which is the "Instant Personalization Pilot" which has gotten everyone so incensed, it actually hit the floor of Senate with enraged politicians on both ends of the political spectrum within days of its activation, not to mention activist groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation that want it shut down.

The second thing that FaceBook did within the last few days was to ask every single user to opt-in on connections to various keywords for "Likes and Interests" for Activities, Interests, Music, Books, Movies and TV as well as for employer/work and educational information that was under their "Info" tab.

In my case, it asked me to link to 67 separate keywords/groups and by default, opted me into each and every one of these, and I had to opt out of all of them manually.

This is totally separate from the traditional FaceBook "Like" where you joined a Page or a Group.  If I want to pull myself out of those, since I am more and more concerned about how this information is going to be shared in the future, I will have to remove myself from what amounts to over 40 separate groups.

What's worse is I cannot do this in bulk, I have to click into every separate one of these pages and "Unlike" manually. Thanks Zuckerberg. Thanks a lot.

More and more, FaceBook is becoming the ultimate "Evil Interface" and the disadvantages, security concerns and time sink for managing these FaceBook profiles are starting to outweigh the actual benefits of using the service in the first place.

This is Adam Smith's Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility applied to Social Networking. More and more and more sharing and personal data exposure from FaceBook is equates to way, way, way less comfort, security, and utility with the service.

Suicide is Painless and Becoming the Social Networking Undead

FaceBook's actions have gotten so many people upset and frustrated that they've actually gone ahead and committed FaceBook "suicide" by completely deleting their on-line profiles. Sites like Seppukoo and the Web 2.0 Suicide Machine have stepped forward to assist them with their electronic euthanasia needs, like the Cloud versions of Doctor Kevorkian.

I have several friends, many who work in the technology industry and that are extremely tech-savvy folks that have recently gone and destroyed their FaceBook accounts the same way, retreating to much more manageable services such as and TwitterandLinkedIn in order to share contact and status information.

As like the ancient Greeks, these tortured souls met Charon at the River Styx, paid their silver coin and ferried on to the Underworld, never to be seen on FaceBook ever again.

<cue the "Let's Go Crazy" Prince monologue> Dearly Beloved, not all of us can completely cut the cord and move on to the afterlife.

Some of us, who have larger levels of exposure and have built an on-line following must build temples to our lifeless forms. We must emulate the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt, where a shell of our former presence must remain as monuments to our living greatness.

Like the Pharaohs, who were regarded as Living Gods, we must also have these temples so that our "worshipers" can continue to receive our blessings and we, as their adoring Gods, can receive their offerings -- i.e., their Wall posts and messages. For what is a God without worshippers?

And there are tools for us to do that, fortunately.

What I am now seriously considering doing is turning my regular FaceBook profile into a completely minimalistic stub, de-activating all Wall capabilities and removing all personal information beyond very basic data. My on-line sarcophagus, where only the "inner priesthood" can examine my mummified form.

I will continue to pare down my friends to a manageable number, probably less than a hundred people. As of this writing, I'm hovering around 570, which is still too large for me to feel comfortable. If I still decide to maintain a Wall on my profile, then only a very small number of people will have access to it: Real life friends, family, and close personal contacts.

This culling and on-line presence segregation not only reduces my level of exposure in terms of "Connections" but also allows me to spend quality time on the Walls of people I care about, which has become increasingly difficult to do with the huge feed of people I'm dealing with now, even post-Grouping and committing mass "friendicide" of about 700 people.

I'll continue to maintain a group that I use for dinner invites and such for my food blog, and for status updates from Twitter and my blogs, I'll maintain a new Jason Perlow fan page.

If someone attempts to friend me, I'll simply point them to subscribe to the Fan Page, where I can still interact with them using a public Wall, and they'll see updates from me on their FaceBook news feeds, but I don't have to go through a whole friending process and share all sorts of personal data with them. If someone is really important enough to merit a business contact, they can hook up with me at LinkedIn.

There are of course a number of disadvantages to this. For starters, everything on a Fan Page is public. But I'm already sending status updates via Twitter and having conversation threads there, so it really won't make much difference, because I won't be posting anything publicly that I won't want anyone else to see. And there's always the chance somebody could post something really obnoxious or vile there, so I'll have to watch it and delete things accordingly.

Unless FaceBook really starts to address my concerns -- I'll be following the traditions of the Japanese Samurai and performing the electronic version of Hara-Kiri, and having myself embalmed and entombed like Ramesses II in the Valley of the FaceBook Kings: my fan page.

Have you committed or are considering FaceBook Hara-Kiri? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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