Leaving Facebook

Now seems like a good time to talk about when I deleted Facebook in January of 2016, and why I came back.

It started off with buying some boxed wine.[1] I texted my wife a picture of the options to find out what she wanted.

A couple days later, I started seeing ads for boxed wine on Facebook. That freaked me out. I had never looked at boxed wine online. I had never bought boxed wine online. I had no relationship between my online identity and boxed wine. I try to limit what Facebook knows about my browsing habits. [2]. Yet here was an ad for boxed wine, online.

My first thought was that Facebook was looking at the images in my text messages and using that for ad targeting. It's a simple but wrong explanation, like the idea that Facebook is eavesdropping on microphones,  Both errors come from anthropomorphizing Facebook, assuming that Facebook uses the same senses that we do. The scary fact is that Facebook et al have enough data on us that they don't need to listen to us or watch us.

Did you know that Facebook ads have a "Why was I shown this ad?" link? I wanted to know why I was seeing boxed wine ads, so I clicked it to find out.

If you don't have experience buying online advertising, let me translate: DLX gave Facebook a list of personally identifiable information (PII) and calls it an audience. Facebook then links that PII to accounts, and uses it's ad algorithms to decide who to show ads to.

DLX, it turns out, in Datalogix.  They get a list of the things you buy with loyalty cards, and then matches those purchases with your online identity. If you take a look at that link, it has this line: "The company reports that it keeps the information anonymous and gives consumers the option to opt out of data collecting and reporting by selecting the opt-out option on their website."

Here's what I saw when I clicked the Opt Out link on Facebook:

If that's gibberish to you, it's basically screenshots showing that Datalogix's opt-out process is really broken and neglected.

So my options are either stop using loyalty cards (and pay more for groceries), or stop giving value to the data that I'm generating. I made a step toward the second, and deactivated my Facebook account. It was deactivated basically from February to November of 2016.

I don't have too many insights about my life without Facebook. I didn't miss it really. I had one person contact my wife to ask if I'd blocked them over something, and we then had a good email conversation.

I came back partly due to the election. I felt that maybe my "no politics on Facebook" rule had been part of the problem – assuming that we wouldn't elect a nightmare. Maybe my voice needed to be heard. I wouldn't swing an election, but if I spoke out maybe I wound help convince a couple friends who were on the fence. Naive, yes, but I was looking for something to do. Anything.

The other reason I came back was because I was basically offloading a lot of social labor on my wife. She was now the sole invitee to events because our friends couldn't invite me on Facebook. She would tell me news from friends that I couldn't see elsewhere. My subdivision uses a Facebook group to share community news, which I had to get from my wife. I wasn't completely off Facebook, I had unconsciously delegated it. So I rejoined.

After all the recent news, I'm off Facebook again. I'm trying to ween myself off of algorithmic timelines (in favor of chronological) since they are dopamine addiction machines. Also, the snooping they do on phones, how they are polarizing the country, and the newsfeed being largely garbage all made the decision pretty easy. I may come back again, but for now I'm sticking to RSS feeds and (non-algorithmic) Twitter.

1: A boxed, collapsible bag is a pretty great packaging system for non-carbonated beverages like wine. It keeps O2 out while letting you have as much (or as little) as you want. Like beer in a can, it's a great package that has undeserved quality connotations.

2: Firefox just launched a really cool plugin that will segment your Facebook browser identity from your other browsing. Highly recommended.

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