I woke up this morning to a jarring phone call from my roommate; one of us had accidentally left the front door unlocked and my cat had escaped (to the fourth floor, where she was coddled until we popped up there and retrieved her). So you can imagine the mood I was in when I logged in to Facebook and discovered a new change: My info page was now full of linked, public information where private lists had once been. Rather than a simple list of my favorite books, movies, and music, I now had a list of links which, if one were to follow, they would be able to connect back to my name (never mind the fact that my profile is set to friends-only, and in reality, limited even farther than that, hidden from certain people I’d rather not allow dissect my faves). Frustrated, I immediately removed all of the information from my profile.
Now, those of you who know me are probably wondering why I care. After all, I’ve been blogging for almost ten years, I share all sorts of personal stuff on Twitter, and I don’t bother to ask Flickr users to remove unflattering photos of me. I live very publicly. So what gives, right? In all of those instances, I choose what I share and with whom I share it.
Honestly, this is the third time I’ve been tempted to just give it all up and leave Facebook. I don’t particularly love the site, and I’m more active on Twitter and elsewhere, but there remains one problem: Facebook is not just a platform; it’s a network. And you can’t take it with you.
That explains why there are so few Facebook refugees. Each time the company changes its privacy controls, there’s a massive uproar from organizations and privacy activists, and yet…nobody deletes their accounts. Same with the activists whose accounts get deactivated–rather than realize that Facebook poses inherent risks, they fight for their rights to return, often successfully. Why? Because you can’t take your network with you.
So what’s a disillusioned Facebook user to do? There aren’t a whole lot of alternatives…you can leave and go to MySpace, orkut, Ning, or a local network. You can limit your profile heavily, but it doesn’t really matter, since Facebook retains your information even after you leave. You can join FacebookWatch, a fledgling project with the goal of unionizing Facebook users.
I don’t profess to know the solution; personally, I think I’ll stay for now, if only because it’s where my people are. One thing’s for sure, however…I won’t be shutting up about it anytime soon.