Robin forwarded an article called How Sticky Is Membership on FaceBook? Just Try Breaking Freefrom the New York Times. Of course, because I’m completely addicted to FaceBook, my first thought was “Why would anyone ever want to leave?” But I can see that there may be reasons that someone might want to leave. And even if you don’t want to leave, FaceBook’s approach to member information might raise some privacy concerns.
According to the New York Times article, members who want to leave FaceBook find it difficult to do so because FaceBook retains information on their servers after a member deactivates her account. As one disgruntled member says, “You can check out any time you like but you can never leave.” FaceBook’s executives say that they retain this information in order to make it easy for a member to reactivate her account. That is, because the information doesn’t disappear when an account is deactivated, if the account is then reactivated, the information is available for the reactivated account. This is obviously a problematic answer to member concerns about information retention. If I decide to deactivate my account, I want my information to be removed from FaceBook’s servers. In response to the ensuing uproar, FaceBook’s executives provided another process for removing information from a deactivated account. The member must delete each piece of information and then once all the information has been manually deleted, the account can be deactivated. Clearly, this is a tedious process that has done little to stem the tide of criticism about FaceBook’s practices.
From a technical standpoint, it should be easy to provide a one-step process for deleting all of the information in an account and then deleting the account itself. So when I first read about the tedious process required for deleting the information associated with an account, I thought perhaps the technical folks at FaceBook had simply been overwhelmed by the success of the site and had not had time and resources to build in as much user-friendliness as the members demanded. After all, FaceBook was created as a hobby project by Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg in 2004 and as of October, 2008, there were more than 140 million active members worldwide. That kind of growth is bound to result in some pain so I figured the lack of easy account deactivation was simply part of that growing pain.
But then I read this excellent post by Steven Mansour. Mansour points out that we voluntarily give our personal information to FaceBook which can then sell that information to the highest bidder. Perhaps this lucrative side business is the real reason that FaceBook doesn’t want to make it easy for users to delete their accounts. This particular privacy issue has been a concern for me for a long time. For example, I am one of the few people I know who has no rewards cards–the kind of cards that you get from grocery stores and book stores where you provide your personal information in return for savings on items that you buy. I have not found that the savings on my purchases has been worth the price of making my private information available to these large corporations. It had not occurred to me that FaceBook might be engaged in the same kind of information harvesting as Hannaford Brothers and Borders Books and Music. But I guess I was just being naive. And the sad thing is that knowing that FaceBook might be engaging in this behavior has not convinced me to leave FaceBook. In return for my information, I get easy-to-use tools that help me keep up with my friends’ lives. I guess everyone has her price.
I am currently Professor of Digital Media at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. I am also the current Coordinator of General Education at the University. I am interested in astrophotography, game studies, digital literacies, open pedagogies, and generally how technology impacts our culture.