Facebook: Starting Over

Like many other people, I have a Facebook account. One reason is to keep track of what’s happening in the planet’s largest social network, including what application developers and users are doing there.

Another is that some of my friends — actual friends — are using the site. Facebook helps me stay in touch.

But the privacy fiasco of the past few days has left me feeling that I really can’t entirely trust Facebook, even with the limited amount of things I’ve said and done on the site since I got an account several years ago. Maybe I’m over-reacting — and I continue to admire the company’s accomplishments in many other ways — but that’s just the way it is.

Why don’t I feel safe and sound in their benevolent hands? Because although some of the changes they’ve made in their privacy settings are actually helpful, they are suggesting that users share much more of their data and other information, much more widely than ever. Facebook’s extremely smart leaders know perfectly well that the majority of users are likely to accept these suggestions, because most people say yes to whatever the default settings are in any application.

I wasn’t very happy with my Facebook situation in any case. Early on, I said yes to just about everyone who asked me to “friend” them, including people barely knew and some I didn’t know at all.

The privacy changes — and my continuing uncertainty, given the number of pages you have to look at to modify your settings — made me realize I’d rather take fewer chances. So I’ve made a fairly drastic change.

This morning, I deleted my account. Then I started a new one.

Actually, I scheduled the old one for deletion several weeks from now, which is all Facebook allows. The company figures, perhaps correctly, that some people will have made this decision rashly and wants to give them a way to reconsider. And it’s clearly in Facebook’s interest to avoid as many cancellations as possible for business reasons.

It wasn’t easy to figure out how to delete the account, which no doubt is part of the company’s strategy, too. If you go to your Settings page, the only option in this realm is to “deactivate,” not delete.

But a little searching on the site turns up this Facebook Group called “How to permanently delete your facebok account” (more than 35,000 members) — which in turn reveals this link to a delete-account form.

Before I did the actual deletion, however, I went to my Account Settings and opened up the Username option. I’d previously set my username to “dangillmor” so my Facebook URL would be, and wanted to be able to use that again. I changed the username to something else, and only then did I delete the account.

Then I started a new account, using a different email address, and set the username to match the old one.

Next up was a check of the default privacy settings for new users. They’re pretty un-private, in my view, sharing way too much with people you don’t know. I systematically went through the various screens — Facebook makes this chore both annoying and obscure, perhaps on purpose — to ratchet down the settings to something I can live with.

Look, we all know what is Facebook’s best interest: exposing to search engines and advertisers the largest possible number of pages by among the largest number of people willing to create stuff and make it all public. Marketers drool at what they can do at Facebook if the company will only let them, and Facebook’s entirely rational goal, like almost every other Internet company’s, is to make profits in almost any way it can. What’s in the corporate interest, however, doesn’t necessarily match what’s in my interest, or yours.

So I’m still at — though my real Web homebase is — with just two Facebook friends at the moment. I’ll be adding more, but not in any hasty way.

UPDATE: Wired News explains How to UnFacebook Yourself.

And Jason Calacanis asks, “Is Facebook Unethical, Clueless or Unlucky?” I vote mainly for the first.