I have a way for evaluating how valuable a website or social network is to me. If I use a website regularly throughout the day I’ll keep the site open in a pinned tab in my browser. The pinned tab stays open permanently and it’s just a simple click to see the site instantly. If I keep a site pinned I call it a Tabworthy site. No, it’s not an original idea – I think it was Alan Pope of the Ubuntu UK podcast who coined the term Tabworthy.
I have a number of Tabworthy sites: my social networks, a couple news sites, my Google calendar and Google reader, as well as this blog (to keep me reminded of all the blog posts I’m planning on writing).
Recently I’ve decided to unpin two tabs: identi.ca and twitter.com. It’s been well over a month since I posted about needing to cut down on my social networking, and since then I’ve mostly abandoned both of those networks. I haven’t closed my accounts, but since the sites aren’t pinned I hardly ever visit them any more. Google+ is far more functional and it’s replaced them both for me.
Over the last week or so I’ve been coming to the conclusion that I need to unpin my Facebook tab as well. I’m basically at the end of my rope with the constant erosion of privacy on Facebook. With the announcement of the new Facebook Timeline and the suggestion that it may automatically add your activities from outside of Facebook to your profile without your intervention or explicit permission - I’ve had enough.
Over the last week there were a couple of blog posts that really highlighted the dangers of this to me:
The first was by the developer Dave Winer who pointed out some of the dangers the new Facebook ‘features’ could have.
The second was by Nik Cubrilovic who reported that Facebook was able to track you even while you were logged out.
Now, in the time since these two articles were published Facebook has responded by saying the fears are overblown (what else would they say?) and the logout problems were due to a bug that has now been fixed. All that may be true, but this whole business just emphasises the point that Facebook it trying to make their network as public as possible and they really like tracking their users behaviours all over the internet.
For quite a while now I’ve had Facebook as a pinned tab and I’ve been continuously logged-in, sometimes 24h per day. I’ve also had Facebook Messenger running continuously in my IM client. That’s all going to end now. I’ll only log into Facebook occasionally, when I actually want to use it. And to deal with the Facebook tracking I’ve added an extension to my browser that deletes any cookies more than 30 minutes old, except for a few that I whitelist (you can be sure that Facebook cookies won’t be whitelisted). That extension combined with Adblock Plus, Flashblock and Ghostery, which I have already been using, should do a pretty good job of stopping most tracking.
I’m well aware that all this might seem hypocritical. I complain about the lack of privacy on Facebook while actively posting publicly on social networks like Twitter and Google+. Here’s the difference: when I first opened my Facebook account there was an assurance of privacy by Facebook. I completed my profile, established my list of friends and made posts all with the assumption that it would be private, only to find that Facebook has gradually been changing their policies to make more and more of MY data public. Usually without my permission and without even informing me. Now, I’m not naive. I know that anything I post on the internet has a good chance of being made public, no matter how private I believe it is – and I’ve been acting as though my postings on Facebook were public for some time. It’s not even the tracking by Facebook that really bothers me – it’s clear Google is tracking me as well – no matter how many cookies I delete. It’s simply the breach of trust – Facebook has lied to me over and over again, Google hasn’t. At least that’s how I see it.
So, Facebook is now deemed Untabworthy. As with Twitter, I won’t be closing my account and I’ll still be logging in – fairly regularly I’m sure. Unfortunately Facebook is still the only way I keep in touch with a number of my friends and family. But from now on I’ll stay logged out most of the time, and my Facebook Messaging will be turned off.
If you’re looking for me and can’t find me on Facebook, I’m still connected to the major IM networks (Google, Yahoo and Windows) and I’ll be doing my social networking over at Google+. And of course there’s always good ol’ email.