Operation cleansweep

I was net-surfing, and I came across a neat little blog-style website that blows the lid wide open on Facebook-related crap, whether the crap comes from Facebook itself (think repeated breaches of privacy) or from third-party sources like rogue app developers that trick you into allowing them to mine all of your data.

One of their posts was a warning about Spokeo.  If you don’t yet know about Spokeo, you should.  Not in a shame-on-you way, but in a I-gotta-tell-you-so-you-can-protect-yourself way.  Spokeo brags that it’s “not your grandma’s phone book” and they’re right – your grandma’s phone book had sane limitations and at least bare minimum ethical standards; these guys don’t.  You can find literally anything on there.  The Facecrooks post takes the reader, oh-let-me-count-the-ways step-by-step, through the various search strings one could use and the various data each search returns.  We’re talking photos, blog entries, status updates, email contact lists, your personal contact info, your neighborhood’s income level and average home value – you name it, it’s there.  Spookeo is more like it.

In my own mellow way, I freaked.  Particularly when I ran searches for my email address only to find pictures of my cats and our graduation all.  Freaking.  Over the place.  And I’m a fairly anonymous person.  I had seen those pictures…on Facebook, so I freaked again, knowing I had locked everything down hard and tight a long time ago.  But I looked at the photos again, and lo and behold, I was tagged in them by other people in their photo albums.

So I logged onto Facebook and started untagging and deleting.  Gone was my cellphone number.  Gone were my tags in photos.  Out went the games, all 3 of them.  At least I didn’t still have my address on there.  Castle Age was the only game I’ll miss; I hadn’t touched Mafia Wars or Sorority Life in ages.  I was about to remove the fact that I was married, but everybody might’ve started to wonder about that and I didn’t feel like explaining myself to 400 people expressing their condolences (or worse, cheering me on) that I was suddenly “single”.  Good God, no.

I thought once again about leaving Facebook entirely but quickly banished the thought.  I’ll stay on (begrudgingly) for the same reasons everybody else I know remains on a site so hideous:

1. I like reuniting and staying in touch with people I knew in high school without having to “Go Gold!” on a dumbass spammy site like Classmates.com.
2. Our family and friends are extremely spread out, and I’m a member of a younger electronic generation that finds Christmas cards (and other types of letter-writing) honorable but cumbersome.  Hell, I’m horrible at thank-you cards, so you can bet how often I (don’t) write letters.
3. It’s a great way to stay in touch with ex-boyfriends who are simply platonic friends without appearing sleazy to their new fiancees/spouses.
4. We now have our own practice, a small business, and it’s important to promote it. Facebook is one of the best (and cheapest) ways to do that.
5. You can meet other people and make new friends (which I have) by sharing common tastes and values.  You can introduce your friends to each other without meeting in person.
6. I wanted to keep in touch with the gazillion classmates we graduated with as we scatter all over the continent (and indeed world) – makes for a kickass referral network without having to maintain a Rolodex.
7. It’s a convenient place to keep stuff – pictures, info, etc.
8. It saved our butts in multiple ways when my parents were hit by a truck and we had to take off in the dead of night and make a 1426-mile journey to Canada.  It helped us post updates on our own travels as well as their status/conditions once we arrived.  It also helped us coordinate efforts and support among family and friends.  And for that, I’m especially grateful.

So, I don’t leave Facebook and I don’t (yet) regret joining.  Overall, it has brought me more pleasure than pain, although the pain’s starting to add up.  Facebook better be careful, because you know that somewhere, some laid-off-and-now-useless IT professionals are moonlighting with a little CSS and whatnot and are building the biggest (OK, the only) Facebook competitor that ever lived.

Not that I’ve actually heard of such a thing (I haven’t) but I’d bet the farm it’s happening somewhere.  With any luck, it won’t be evil.  Until then, I’m changing or deleting any Facebook data I can part with.  And I suggest that anyone who values their privacy (and indeed, possibly their money and/or safety) to do the same.

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