Tomorrow would have been my father’s 80th birthday. And it is also the day when I’ll be hitting the ‘delete’ button on my Facebook profile.
This will actually be the second time that I’ve done so. I was originally on Facebook from 2007 to 2015, before deciding that I needed to get away from that place. I reluctantly rejoined in 2016 after it became clear that some of my friend just weren’t online anywhere else, and because I thought I should have a presence on there for work purposes.
But it has become apparent over the last year or so that not only had the causes of my earlier departure not been alleviated, but the rot ran even deeper than I could have imagined.
I’ve been online for long enough to remember the original walled gardens, the likes of AOL and CompuServe. While those services did eventually open up to the wider Internet, they remained primarily self-contained and self-absorbed. Facebook today is exactly the same. You are actively discouraged from linking to anything from the open web, and encouraged to post and share only stuff that stays within the Facebook moat.
Where Facebook diverges from the walled gardens of the past, however, is the lengths to which it seems prepared to go to monitor what you do, not just within its services but just about anywhere on the web. Mark Zuckerberg and the other execs may claim that they care about the users of their service, but the truth is that they only care about what personal information they can scrape up and sell on to advertisers. And they don’t appear to have many scruples about who they sell that data to and what those buyers then use the data for.
Of course, Facebook is not the only one who is in this game. Google’s surveillance efforts are no less pervasive and far-reaching, with Microsoft and others looking to get their snouts into the trough of personal information too. But it seems that Facebooks sheer arrogance has finally thrown a big enough spotlight onto the world of surveillance capitalism that more and more people are noticing and starting to vote with their browsers and devices.
I am hopeful that the online world will grow and move onward, and these privacy-invading practices will be consigned to the history books alongside the dial-up modem.