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 facebook.com/dangillmor, 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 facebook.com/dangillmor — though my real Web homebase is dangillmor.com — 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.

39 thoughts on “Facebook: Starting Over”

  1. Not to dismiss your legitimate concerns, because they are valid, however I would only add that even the best attempts at protecting our privacy on a social media site is just that — an attempt. Facebook’s stated goal is for its members to be as open and sharing as possible. The logical conclusion would lead most to believe that Facebook would want to share that data with marketers to enhance its business. Yes, some of Facebook’s recent attempts to address privacy issues have been awkward, but I’m not sure how far FB will ever go to totally protect what you and I put on their site.
    If social media is the new public sidewalk, Facebook is Broadway.
    I think if privacy is really an issue for anyone, then they need to re-think signing up to use a social media website in the first place.

  2. At the risk of stating the bleedin’ obvious, there is, of course, a failsafe method of not having your privacy compromised: whatever you want kept private, don’t place on a social networking site.

    1. “whatever you want kept private, don’t place on a social networking site.”

      Unfortunately, the down-home sensible sound of that advice is falsely reassuring.

      Modern data-mining techniques enable corporations and various government organizations to take social networking data and make inferences about you that are often correct, and — whether correct in your case or not — may well become the basis for how you are treated/adverstisedTo/categorized/harrassed.

      A vaguely parallel example can be had in the domain of grocery shopping. Whenever your grocery purchase involves something identifiable (credit card, loyalty card, etc), the things you bought are placed in a database. “So what?” you might ask…. “I’m not buying anything illegal”. But that misses the point: those databases are being scoured for ANY statistically plausible data that can be used as a basis to analyze you. For example: if you spent three years buying steak weekly, then suddenly began buying hamburger instead, a credit card company may well deduce that you are reigning in costs because you know something about your job or general solvency that may negatively impact your finances. If the hamburger you buy is low grade, an insurance company may decide you’re a higher risk than the person next to you.

      THIS IS NOT ABJECT SUPPOSITION… these companies have publicly admitted to doing EXACTLY this.

      Back to the social networking data: I just read an article today where researchers pitched the notion that they can, with high accuracy, deduce a person’s sexual orientation by looking at that person’s connections on social networking sites. Note that this does not rely in the slightest on person X putting “I am gay” in their official data; it is IMPLICIT, according to these data mining models. Knowing what I do about data mining, I don’t find this nearly as preposterous as I’d like to. Maybe more the point, companies are constantly looking for “value propositions”, and even THEORIES about how money might be squeezed or saved in various ways are going to get traction. And we’re living in the wrong day and age for people to be dismissive of the idea that government might be populating no-fly and phone-tap lists from social networking data.

      The uses to which social networking data are being put are far, far more nefarious than what you’d suppose at first blush… and to re-emphasize my central point, do not think for a second that omitting something from your published data means you’re in control of the conclusions being drawn about you from your data and connections.

  3. About a year ago I put all but my very close friends in the ‘Limited Profile’ friend list. I adjusted the profile so for the most part people on that list can’t see too much. I don’t put people on this list until a couple of weeks after I add them as friends – if they’re interesting in the way they interact with me after they’ve been added then they get to stay. This”test period” is also important because people want to see who your facebook personality is, and that’s reasonable.

    I have 2 lists for people who CAN see all my profile, so I can monitor who gets to see the whole thing. One is for people who I’ve given permanent access to, and one for the people in the ‘test period’. So each friend is a member of one of these 3 lists.

    Then I have lists for friends describing the social circles they’re a part of. Each friend goes under on of those, too.

    This system goes quite well for me.

  4. I hate it when people restrict their info too much. You go looking for old friends, and you get a 15 entries by that name. Half of them have a profile picture of their cat, or dog, or car, and are sharing NO info… How the heck am I supposed to figure out which one of the 15 it is I used to know? It is a Social Networking Site… you can’t involve in social networking without giving some of your info out to people…

    Also, in my experience people with blanket paranoia tend to leak more important data then people that selectively filter what may and may not be public.

    just my €.02

  5. Hm. I think I’m confused at why someone would take all the trouble of deleting their account just to start another up again and have to re-solicit friends. Why not just spend that time actually learning and setting your privacy settings in the first place, using friends lists and just becoming more altogether savvy?

    If you were leaving the site entirely I’d understand, but deleting and restarting sounds like a fool’s errand that puts you in the exact position you started in: having to learn the settings (except that you presumably had stronger settings when you started than the defaults would have been in restarting).

    Sounds like the same process I see older people go through with their computer/car/big-purchase: The minute anything gets more complicated or slightly suspicious they toss out the old one and get a brand new one.

    1. One reason, as stated, was that I’d said yes to a lot of friend requests from people I barely knew (or didn’t know at all) at the beginning. Rather than go back through and unfriend a bunch of people, this just seemed simpler.

      1. “Rather than go back through and unfriend a bunch of people, this just seemed simpler.”

        Okay, now that’s nonsense…

        1. The simplicity here probably isn’t the act of clicking a ‘Remove’ button less times than you want to, to unfriend a bunch of people but rather it’s a lot simpler, socially, to re-add friends than to have to unfriend people after you’ve accepted their friend request.

          It’s quite an anti-social act and one I think a good deal of people might feel apprehensive about and thus create some guilt. I know I’d feel guilty about deleting someone even if it’s well within my right *shrug*

      2. As I was growing up (still learning) I remeber my grandparents saying;” It takes all kinds of people to make the world go around”. Now that I have experience in parts of life, I understand this is a different way, all the diversity of man kind in the USA makes the world more interesting.

        I read above in a different reply that you are the one that holds your privacy, so it is up to you of want you say and want you don’t

  6. Dan, we have ran across each other a couple times. While starting fresh is a great way to verify who has access and remove any doubt, it also raises some other issues on areas where you rely on social networks to spread readership and listenership. I have faced this also.

    What about your existing content you have added and opened for conversation/commenting? Will you duplicate it in the new account and then restrict? Can you reproduce any conversations that took place there? Let me offer a suggestion that would fit any issue, even yours.

    While moving people to a fan page is impossible without Facebook’s help (Amber Mac had this done), you could lock all your information down to a group and just add the few people that should see it. Thereby keeping everyone else in a more restricted state. Basically working Facebook in reverse. Instead of worry about who to lock out, lock everyone out and let in the few. Sounds more reasonable and easier for sure.

    Disclosure: I do run the resource site and privacy controls and data is a hot topic for some time

  7. I have no interest in Facebook’s privacy settings. As far as I’m concerned, if it’s on the web, it’s public. My blog is 100% public. My Twitter stream is 100% public. I approach Facebook the same way – I wouldn’t post anything there that I didn’t assume was suitable for public consumption.

    The problem, it seems to me, is in the assumption that FB is “different” from other web sites, and that some level of privacy should be expected (or even beneficial) there, when we don’t expect the same of other web venues.

    The privacy settings at FB are just an obstacle to discovery, not a feature I appreciate.

  8. I think Facebook is going to be the Enron of the internet, its just that the day of reckoning hasn’t come yet. Traders at Enron would do anything to meet their number. Facebook seems to be doing anything it can to grow. And the roots run deep. Look at the stories of how it was founded with allegedly purloined code. Look at the recent posts on Tech Crunch about how much of their revenue is derived from companies that sign people up without their approval for “services” after they play an online game and get a code thru their cellphone. Almost every time you look, they’re doing something that will enhance their company without regard to its effect on the public. The scary thing is that in this digital age, once data about you is online its never going to go away. Ever.

  9. Thanks for this article. FYI, if you are running WP Super Cache plugin try deleting your cache. I am getting the iPhone page using Firefox 3.5.5 on my desktop.

  10. http://www.seppukoo.com/

    Facebook and other social networks have become the means for some people to spread the details of their private life around like a “clap” or “VD”. Some people thrive on the “attention” and “fame” that this produces. the thing about organisms is that there are always other organisms around that feed on them, especially microorganisms like molds and viruses…. ;-)

  11. Thank you for the direct link to the delete account section. I’m so sick of Facebook at this point I will likely delete my account. The final straw for me… so much like Microsoft. The thing that sucks is Mark Zuckerberg is going to ruin the entire Internet for everyone…Like Jason says… all this is going to do is get the attention of clueless politicians who will then regulate the Internet to make it worse than AOL ever was.

    Ugh… I sure do miss the 1990’s

  12. So I thought I killed my Facebook account a few weeks ago when it appears I only put it into a coma. Can a deactivated account then be deleted?

    1. JoAnn, you have to use the link that they don’t show you (in the blog post) to actually delete it.

  13. Yes I tried that. (which in turn reveals this link to a delete-account form.)
    And that takes me to my login page. But since I deactivated it (thinking I closed the account as in deleted it weeks ago) it now tells me that account has been disabled. So I can’t get in now to delete it it seems.

    1. I don’t know for sure, but you may have to reenable it in order to delete it. Somehow that wouldn’t surprise me if it’s the case.

  14. I for one totally understand Dan’s desire to delete and start over. I had a second facebook account I started under this name (an assumed one) just to see what the hoopla was all about, then started a real one and joined the Facebook party under my real name. Then this whole privacy nightmare started, and I got really annoyed — annoyed there was no way to stop Facebook from posting what I was doing and saying on the site, and no way to stop truckloads of inane, meaningless posts showing up on my feed. So I deleted my real name, and now I am much happier operating as an international and fair-haired man of mystery. I have like 10 friends instead of 700…..but the truth is that I almost never use it anymore. The whole thing seems very 2009, if I can be so jaded. I don’t miss it at all, and find that I want to reach out and spend time and connect with people more.

  15. Hi Dan! How long did it take to get your same username once your first account was deleted? I was thinking about doing something similar to you–would hate for someone else to grab “my” username in between deletion and creation…

    1. It took no time at all — I just change the first username and renamed the new account with it.

      1. Sounds like a plan. How did you change the first username? I didn’t think it was possible to change your username…

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