[I posted this on my Facebook page on May 6, 2010, soon before deleting my Facebook account. It’s a little off-topic for OTI, but I’ve had some requests to post it here. Feel free to “Like” it and bask in the irony. —Fenzel]
Back when I waited tables, I did something wrong to a customer. It was a slow shift on a Saturday afternoon. A woman came into the near-empty restaurant to have lunch by herself. She asked for a glass of white wine. She didn’t specify what kind.
I was frustrated, I was bored, I was worried about not making any money, so I tried to get away with something. I brought her a kind of fancy glass of white wine. Oh, it wasn’t a fancy restaurant (it was a family chain restaurant, actually), so it wasn’t a big difference – a $7 glass of wine instead of a $4 glass of wine.
When the woman finished her meal and looked at her check, she was upset, and understandably so. When you order a glass of white wine and don’t specify what kind, you expect the house wine – usually the most affordable wine in the restaurant. While she had enjoyed the wine, I was now asking three extra dollars for it that she never agreed to. And I was making it very awkward for her to say no.
It hadn’t seemed so bad when I had done it, but I was trying to rip her off, and she did me a favor – she decided not to stand for it. She yelled at me and dressed me down in front of my manager. I realized what I had done and was horribly embarrassed.
I apologized, and the manager gave her a free meal. This was the first big thing I’d done wrong at that job, so I was let off with a warning. If I’d done it more than once or twice, I’d have been fired.
… today, I’m firing Facebook.
Except in rare cases, taking something extra from a customer without their permission and without giving them a fair chance to say no is wrong. Employees should be ashamed to do it, and customers shouldn’t stand for it.
This is what Facebook has done with “pages” and “connections” systems, with the increasing difficulty of keeping your conversations with your friends from popping up on random pages, and with their systems to send your personal information to third-party websites automatically when you visit them so that they can sell you stuff – and worse, sending these companies your friends’ personal information through their link to you without asking them or you if you’re okay with it.
They’ll say they’re adding features, and they are; they’re giving you marginally fancier white wine – but they’re doing it without asking you, and they’re taking away something valuable from you without giving you a chance to say no – your privacy, your personal information, even your conversations among your friends. They’re putting your job at risk by making it very hard to exercise discretion and keep up boundaries around what you say online. They’re tricking you into thinking nothing is happening. And then they’re selling that to people.
To whom? We assume it’s companies selling stuff, but it could be anybody. The government. Somebody else’s government. A political group. Your old boss. Your new boss. The boss that won’t hire you because you said something bad about his favorite baseball team three months ago that got aggregated to a page. You don’t get to find out, because you have no control over where your stuff is going to end up. And they’ve proven they can’t be trusted.
Now, I mention all this because some people care a lot about keeping things secret, but I don’t really care much about my privacy. I’m an adult – I know what happens when I post things on the Internet. I’m a very public, social person, and I don’t censor myself much. I use and will continue to use other social networking tools that are much less private than Facebook – like Twitter.
What I care about is ethics. Doing the right thing. And Facebook has not been doing the right thing.
The right thing to do when you make a deal or ask somebody to trust you with something is to keep your word. Facebook used to promise they wouldn’t share your information with anyone who wasn’t connected to you through your friends — ever. They “revise” their promises fairly frequently nowadays.
The right thing to do is to give your customers control over whether or not they use your services. When you take something from somebody, consent is very, very important. Do not force them, do not trick them, do not silence their objections, do not lead them into goose chases and lie to them and tell them it is all for their benefit when it is clearly for yours. Have you learned nothing from America Online?
It’s not even these changes that really bother me – it’s that Facebook keeps doing it, keeps making everything opt-out and hiding the button – with no signs of regret, maturity or responsibility for their actions. Their lies about their intentions are baldfaced and transparent. There is every indication they will keep pushing it and pushing it until the government sets a line and makes some part of it illegal.
You can’t trust Facebook anymore, and it’s become clear they’re Bad People. Capital B, Capital P. The good ones aren’t speaking up enough to keep the bad ones in check, so the place we once loved – still love – has gone rotten on us.
So, as useful as I’ve found the site – I mean, I’ve really loved Facebook, there’s a reason I left other social networking sites for it and have more than 1,000 friends – I’ll have to say “no thanks” the hard way.
You’ll still see work from me on here from time to time – Overthinking It can’t afford to leave, and my improv groups are still on here, but as soon as I finish saving all my photos, my personal participation here is done.
If they roll back these changes and offer a meaningful apology for it, maybe I’ll come back, but I’m not holding my breath.
To all my friends, you can e-mail me at fenzel at overthinkingit dot com or find me on Twitter.
I don’t want to lose touch, but there’s only so much we can put up with before we really have to say enough is enough . And I’m not going to be held hostage out of fear that my friends and family won’t be able to find me. We did fine before Facebook, and we can do fine after it.
Maybe I’ll go back to Friendster.
I deleted my Facebook and my Twitter back in late December or early January but for different reasons. I was compulsively checking the two services for updates (as I had some friends who used one, the other or both) and that needed to stop. Now I’m able to justify my account deletion with Facebook’s less-than-principled privacy policies. I never had a MySpace or a Friendster and Facebook was my first Social Networking experience and while it wasn’t bad…it definitely got worse as time went on. I believe the “You have 0 friends” episode of South Park really drove the point home with how inane social networking has gotten.
I would join you, Fenzel, on your exodus from Facebook were it not for the fact that Facebook is literally the only way I’m connected to roughly 2/3 of my friends (actual friends, not people who just clicked the ‘friend’ button). I’ve become very wary of what I post on my Facebook page now that I’m entering the magical world of job-hunting.
Good work. It’s important to recognize what we don’t want and not waste time on it.
Once you are among the workers and out in the world, socializing is quite bit different. I suspect your social life will change and adjust on its own quite a bit. For one, in-person interactions become more important, because you have to make more of an effort for them to happen, and you have less time to do it in. I think that naturally leads to people having smaller, inner circles of close friends when they are out in the world than when they are in school.
Also, weekends matter more, if you get them. That makes social planning a lot more important and useful, and dulls the utility of the instantaneous connections on Facebook.
But regardless, the more dependent you are on Facebook, the smarter it is, I think, to consider at least adding some other options — so that if you _can’t_ use Facebook (say you get a job that blocks it that has very long hours), you aren’t cut off from social support and get super lonely.
As for your other friends, I recommend writing down or recording their phone numbers or e-mail addresses somewhere. I have Gmail and a G-1 phone, so I use Google contacts a lot (that has its own issues, but not nearly as troublesome as Facebook).
But even then, it’s a good idea to go through your lists of contacts offline at least every year or two, figure out which ones matter, and remind yourself who is there. The main reason to do this is in the even you lose your cell phone or something else happens — that way, you can still get in touch with people.
Facebook is okay for this, but having your own contact list is better. Not everybody is on Facebook, not everybody on it uses it all the time, and for certain things (both business and pleasure) you’re really going to want to call people directly, or at least e-mail them. It gives you a lot more options.
It just wouldn’t be an OTI article without a graph, now would it? This came through my Twitter feed today:
I guess it’s never bothered me because I’ve always treated my Facebook page like I’ve treated my blog and any e-mails. I don’t post anything that I’d be humiliated about if it was read out loud in open court.
I never assumed anything on there would be kept private, regardless of their promises.
…and, in an eerie bit of confluence, from yesterday’s NYT:
Real world coordination is the main reason that I really use facebook. It is easier than keeping up with a million email addresses of people, and if I’m throwing a party or something, this makes it a lot simpler to use than something like evite or a mass email.
Given your stance, I think you will appreciate this tidbit:
And I quote:
Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard
Zuck: Just ask.
Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS
[Redacted Friend’s Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?
Zuck: People just submitted it.
Zuck: I don’t know why.
Zuck: They “trust me”
Zuck: Dumb fucks.
See, this all *could* have been done right…probably even by the people that Zuckerberg took the idea from in the first place. :-/
Thanks for the advice! I didn’t mean to come off like a weird shut-in who lives on the internet. I’m just in that awkward period where most everyone I know has moved back to wherever it is they came from before college, so Facebook’s become the de facto network for the time being. I’m not wholly dependent on it to keep tabs on people, its just the only social networking site I use outside of Twitter.
Writing down a tangible contact list is a very good idea, though, so thanks for that.
Also in the process of deleting my FaceBook account, this was recommended to me. It’s a start up by four NY students that shows great promise, in my opinion and apparently a number of investors that believe this is the way to go.
The idea is essential thus: Each user owns a ‘node’, their own node. This node is a desktop in their home or a server in a data center, and it holds all their information, tightly encrypted i might add. The idea is that only friends that know each other can share their information, and they choose what information to share. It’s a very distributed type of idea, and does away with the idea of a centralized mainframe where everyone’s information is kept. The technology is there, and it seems that the interest is great enough that they stand a chance to step up and into the social networking field.
The first public release is slated for September, so we’ll see then, hm?
Personally, I gave up on Facebook in 2005, since it didn’t appeal to me. Though, to be fair, I only know about five people. From what I gather, however, it’s grown into a hideous, unwieldy behemoth.
I left Facebook around November last year, with the attitude “If Facebook is the only place where we’re ‘friends’, then we’re not really friends.” There were only about 5 people whose updates really mattered to me, and I follow them on Twitter anyway. I also just got sick of more and more pointless crap showing up in my feed, I really don’t care if so-and-so adopted a chicken on Farmville.
Sad, we never got to be friends, Fenzel…
In all seriousness, I have contemplated leaving a number of times because of what you bring up. It may be better to beg forgiveness than ask permission for the one doing the wrong, but what about the one being wronged? Right? But alack, alas, I’m in the same boat as you, Wade, in that friends have geographically changed, and it makes keeping up with them easier. Now, adding a bunch of names to a FB message is no different than sending a mass-email, I realize, but it’s easier to have that and some of the other stuff available on the same site. I like dinking around on the internet, but I like things as simple as possible because I’m not very good with technology or computers- so for me, the consolidation factor is what keeps me signed up. It was the first social networking website I joined, and I only did so because of how tight the stipulations for signing up used to be (a legitimate email address from a college allowed to participate). Were it then the way it is now, I wouldn’t have made an account.
Interestingly enough, Google has done something I consider somewhat lamesauce, too. If you ever created an account on Blogger, it’s impossible to delete the profile. Sure, you can get rid of any blog posts and render the profile invisible, but you can’t get rid of the profile itself- thereby making it impossible to delete the account. Rather irksome, especially since I no longer have access to the email address it thinks I used to set up the account
That’s a fairly common problem with web based message boards (particularly VBulletin ones in my experience). There’s two reasons for this. The first is that if your delete your account, the system removes your username and then someone can sign up for an account using that same name and could start masquerading as you. The second is that it’s possible that you return to the service if you still have an account even if you’re dissatsified with site for whatever reason.
Google’s GMail service handles it the right way. You can delete your account and the system deletes your account BUT does not allow the reuse of your username (at least as far as I know).
Fascinating read, as usual but I do have to take issue with the personal story.
“…taking something extra from a customer without their permission and without giving them a fair chance to say no is wrong.”
Yes, that is wrong for a business to do. But it’s not what you did. The fact that the woman whom you were serving didn’t specify which wine is on her, not you. It’s her fault for either being ignorant or lazy.
You’ve probably never worked at a restaurant that serves booze. Not specifying what kind of wine or liquor you want always means the house wine or the house liquor. It’s an unwritten rule, but it’s a rule nonetheless.
I didn’t understand how pervasive this rule is at the time, either. That’s why I thought I could get away with it. But realizing that the customer, my manager and the other servers all had the same understanding about the rule.
When a customer gives you tacit permission to do something for them based on a reasonable expectation, it is not on them to make their expectation explicit. It is on you to not twist their intention and bilk them out of money by abusing shorthands.
In other words, a business is not a genie of the lamp. It has an obligation to honor the social expectations and shorthands around what its customers ask for. It’s not customers being vague — it’s the business being wilfully ignorant of widely understood semiotics.
As a business, if my customer pays me to give them a potion that will make sure they never age, it is fraudulent for me to turn them to stone. As a genie, it’s merely hilarious.
Eh, early in the morning, made some typos on the last one. But you get the idea.
I thought we were facebook friends! If we weren’t it’s an oversight on my part. You were the first overthinking it reader to friend me, so it’s possible that, at the time, I kind of balked at friending people I didn’t know personally. I had loosened up over the years. Sorry if I inadvertently hurt your feelings.
Good on ya, Emily! Well put!
@ “Economists Do It with Models”
Hi Jodi! ;-)
People should check out Jodi’s blog, by the way, linked from her name. It’s very good.
Also, that exchange is hilarious — and telling. One of the things about Facebook’s response to this that is very unsettling is their lack of candor.
Elliot Schrage, the Facebook Public Policy Officer is a toolbag and a shill, but I don’t know what else you’d expect from a guy they brought over from the Gap.
Like a previous commenter, Tom, I too generally assumed they would try to profit from your personal information, no matter what they claimed. Everybody else does. That’s why my facebook page has never contained any personal information–the “about you” sections I filled in with jokes: I’m a demigod, Daniel Radcliffe started the Spanish-American War, etc. I never understood those people (everybody, apparently) who feel it necessary to be honest on these things, as if advertising one’s love of some musician or movie was an important facet of their “digital selves.”
Daniel Radcliffe started the Spanish-American War? That is funny. As we all know, it’s actually the Sino-Japanese War that he started.
I’m very careful when it comes to filling out forms or information for any website. I don’t even give my real name or e-mail address unless I have to. You can’t trust anybody.
@RiderIon: Now I find that part about Gmail fascinating, since Blogger is a Google service and shows up when you’re editing stuff from your Google homepage. If they allow you to delete it in once service, why not another? Silly Google, silly, silly Google.
@Fenzel: Uh, I friend-requested you? When? I don’t even remember this. And actually, I thought I avoided asking you and the other OTI writers to avoid any awkwardness/ to not seem like a stalker/crayzay fangirl ZOMG the Overthinkers EEEEEEEE!!!! etc. Maybe I had a moment of weakness…? Ack. I was just giving you a hard time, I’m sorry!
If Facebook was straight forward about their intentions, business direction, and partnerships I’d feel differently. I want to make informed decisions about my privacy.
I see Facebook as a pimp, selling users’ information to advertisers and whomever else will pay for the data.
Not a useful service to me. Not an equitable trade.
I’m always on it. I’m at that stage where i’ve got a few close friends and alot of loose social acquaintances, and everyone kinda lives around each other… it’s easier to use Facebook to let everyone know i’ll be seeing X band or Y pub or whatever
Eh, I’m pretty sure that what Facebook is doing is illegal and Zuckerberg’s an idiot with a big head who thinks Facebook’s more important than it actually is, so my money is on him going to jail and us all getting our info back, so why leave Facebook and not be able to keep in contact easily with my friends from high school, college, grad school, and from different places I live? Not gonna let Z-berg affect my life. Meanwhile I just deleted all my stupid “likes.” So sorry Miley Cyrus, I am no longer your fan. Ironically, of course. ;-)
A few more links — now we learn that Facebook is indeed passing personally identifiable information onto advertisers, in contravention of its own privacy policies:
Unfortunately this sort of thing is really quite common in Web 2.0 type companies. They think they’re Masters Of The Universe because their lawyers cooked up a weasel TOS that basically reads “we can do whatever the hell we want and you guys can suck it” and users are too clueless or easily cowed to care. Some video game publishers have been exhibiting a similar attitude lately with respect to shady DRM practices, but it’s starting to bite them on the ass.
I only use Facebook for the lols; there’s no “personal information” beyond what could be found off a simple Google search and I only log on maybe once a month to clean the dirty laundry.