Sunday, February 6, 2011

Facebook remembers everything!

I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. I signed up two years ago, mostly to keep in touch with my family, many of whom are out of state, and for sharing pictures with friends and even doing a little family history research. I enjoy that about Facebook and hate to give it up. When I signed up, I was honest, and used my real name and birth date, though I have been pretty good about being on top of my privacy settings.

Facebook has made that last part rather challenging.  Facebook privacy issues have created a great deal of public debate and further research indicates the concern is a valid one. Being connected and sharing personal information is de regueur these days. But are we sharing too much? And if we decide we have shared too much, is it too late to go back?

Me thinks the answer is "yes" to both!

I have discovered that no matter what you delete or change  in your profile information, news feed or your status, Facebook deletes nothing! Facebook saves every thing you type, download and post. Let me give you a couple of personal examples.

When I first signed up, I placed my real employer in my profile information. But as a joke, and in deference to my admiration for Seinfeld, I also stated that I was an architect at Vandalay Industries. For those of you who are not Seinfeld fans, that was the fictitious career and company that Jerry's friend George Costanza used to impress people and obtain dates with girls.  Apparently my joke wasn't original. Facebook was always suggesting, as it does, ways for me to connect with potential friends, including others employed at Vandalay Industries, which included a good number of architects!

Ha ha. But last year, as the joke grew old, I deleted my fictitious employer and position. A year later, I am still getting offers to connect with the crowd at Vandalay. Perhaps these are just lingering meta tags that didn't get deleted when I made changes, but I am not so sure.

It doesn't stop there. I periodically clean out my old posts, removing them from my archives - statements that are dated or are no longer relevant.  Last month, after the  introduction of the new profile page, I was treated to something called Facebook Stories, and there, popping up to remind me, were posts I wrote three and six months ago. I didn't ask for them to be there, they just popped up. Many I thought I had deleted. I was sure I had deleted them, but there they were, word for word!  That disturbs me.

Even though my privacy settings are fairly stringent, I had originally posted my full DOB, including year of birth. It is there forever, though I select not to publish my DOB on my profile, even for friends. I also removed the year I graduated from high school. It strikes me a little odd that some of the people I know, don't publish their year of birth, but have no problem publishing the year they graduated. Someone can pretty much figure out the year you were born based on the year you graduated. Despite my removing that information, Facebook has held onto it, urging me to connect with the Class of 197*. But I took that out- how do they still know?

The whole thing strikes me as kind of creepy, in a big brother-ish sort of way. I've never been one of those kooky conspiracy theory types, and personally, I have little to hide or be ashamed of as far as Facebook is concerned-but I don't like the feeling that the stupid, silly, innocuous things I have to say are being stored somewhere...that an overall portrait is being painted and preserved in Facebook's vaults. It gives me the heebie geebies.

Especially since I have read that Facebook plans to roll out Messages as a competitor to other email services. Why use your Verizon, Comcast, Gmail, Yahoo account when you have Facebook's Messages so conveniently at hand? I must confess to using FB's Send a Message a lot more lately, because I know my friends and family are all on FB and they get the message instantly, as opposed to waiting 2-3 days for them to check their regular email. But I am not convinced that FB doesn't have access to what I am sending. I don't want them reading my email. Delicate family matters are no one's business but my family's. I don't know if FB is now or ever would look into my messages, but FB seems to have access to everything else I I just don't plain trust Facebook.

I've recently deactivated my Facebook account for time management and academic reasons (I have books to read and thick papers to write), but I have a mind to get rid of FB all together. Yes, you can totally delete your Facebook account. Follow that link for good instructions. This requires abstaining from all Facebook activity, liking other pages, signing on to pages through Facebook, etc. for a prescribed period of time. These instructions specify 14 days  Then it will be safe to:
  • Create an anonymous email account, such as Yahoo, Hotmail or Gmail
  • Use that email account to open a new Facebook account with slightly altered name spelling, slightly altered DOB and a bit of creative disinformation entered, not to defraud anyone mind you, but to protect my privacy from the mysteries that lie behind Facebook's prying eyes.  
It is important to note that DEACTIVATING your Facebook account is not the same as deleting it. If you deactivate, you can reactivate at any time and all your information and photos will be restored.

For me, the possible loss of my photos was a big reason to postpone permanently deleting my account. However I was pleased to learn that you can now download all your pictures you have posted on Facebook to your computer. Facebook will ask you a series of security questions (mostly asking you to visually identify your friends so make sure you know them well), and the process can take a long time depending on how many pictures you have posted. In my case, I started the process in the evening and it took overnight into the next morning before the download was complete. I received a ZIPPED folder of all my photos via email. This did not remove the pictures, but simply gave me a backup copy. Go to your account settings to learn more.

Should I decide to permanently delete my original account, after 14 days, I can create a new more user-controlled Facebook account and upload many if not all of my old pictures.

I was taught to share and play nice. But if I decide to share something with a friend, family member, or you, I deserve the peace of mind knowing that my message, confidential or not, is going to the intended recipient and no one else. Sharing should not be forced, coerced or surreptitious. Until I am convinced, I am canceling my play dates with Facebook.

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