I’ve been thinking about it for several weeks. Today, I did it. I left Facebook. I don’t mean that I simply deactivated my account, storing the information, making it easier to come back into the FB fold later. No, I went the route of permanently deleting my account. It was no small thing, considering all the old friends I got back in touch with and the daily social networking one grows accustomed to and eventually in need of. For a writer it’s also a valuable source of information, as many of my friends are journalists who post links to stories they find interesting. It was also a means of publicizing my blog and website, so I’ll be missing out on that part of it, too. It’s just that the date of my birth is none of Mark Zuckerberg’s damn business. I think that’s what finally did it, seeing my “birth” down at the bottom of the Facebook “Timeline.” That, and any other information that’s requested so that it can be siphoned off, collated and used in ways I have only scant knowledge of, because there are no rules forcing them to tell us what all is being gathered up, or how, specifically, it’s being used.
“The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society” – John F. Kennedy
I know my departure won’t amount to a tiny blip on the multi-billion dollar all-seeing eye of Facebook, but I’m from the 60’s. I grew up questioning authority and worrying about officials, any officials, keeping track of who I am and what I’m doing. My paranoia was only amplified by recent reports indicating that the IRS, law enforcement (including Homeland Security) and private business, are using information gleaned from the Internet, with much of it coming from social networking sites, not just to catch bad guys, but to build profiles on us all. The Wall Street Journal reports that it’s one of the “fastest growing businesses on the Internet.” Profiles that will enable businesses to target you for advertising, and give employers the word on whether you’re what they’re looking for even before you fill out a job application or go through an interview.
Hang on, it gets even better. And by better, I mean worse.
Bob Sullivan, from MSNBC, reports that “researchers at three U.S. colleges say they’ve figured out a way to predict future job success by scoring applicants’ Facebook profile pages.” Beyond that, there is the potential that eventually they’ll have numeric scores on everybody, just like your current credit score, except that these scores will apply to job worthiness, psychological stability and general demeanor. You won’t get the job and you won’t be admitted to the college of your choice. And you will have no idea why. ABC News reports that some prospective employers are doing background checks on your tweets. You’ll be shut out of that better apartment your trying to get into uptown, apparently for no good reason. You won’t be able to find out why it happened, because the third-party companies that gather the information and sell it to government agencies and businesses don’t have to tell you a thing.
Some employers already demand that you turn over your user-name and password, if you want to be considered for a job. According to the London Daily Mail, “One American was shocked to find a section in an application form that demanded not only his user names – but also passwords that would give his employers full access to his account, including private messages to other people. Employers using Google- or ‘people search’ engines such as 123People – has become a standard part of job applications, and employers also check Facebook.”
Big Brother? This is Big Brother on afterburners.
I wouldn’t expect the free-traders on the right to make a move to do anything about this, even if they could understand it, which I’m pretty sure they can’t. I’m pretty sure most of our “honorable” elected representatives in the District, are dazed and confused, regardless of party affiliation. I can’t help but think of the following passage-
“Parsons was Winston’s fellow employee at the Ministry of Truth. He was a fattish but active man of paralyzing stupidity, a mass of imbecile enthusiasms-one of those completely unquestioning, devoted drudges on whom, more even than on the thought police, the stability of the Party depended.” -1984 – George Orwell
To his credit, President Obama, apparently gets it. He is proposing an online privacy “Bill of Rights,” giving Internet users more control over the ability of others to gather information on their Internet activities. Google, has already agreed to let its users opt-out from tracking by including a “do not track” button on their browser. Hopefully, others will follow suit taking it beyond the browsers, but with so much money being made on collecting our personal information, I doubt it.
I am concerned that many who have never read Orwell, those who have no idea who he was and don’t understand the implications or the power the control of personal information bestows, may see this as being just fine. They grew up with social networking after all, so what’s the harm? Anyway, there’s really nothing anybody can do about it, right? Those are the rationalizations of a cyber-addict.
And so I’ve left Facebook, before I too, find it impossible to do so. I hope Mr. Obama’s efforts at ensuring at least a degree of online privacy succeed. I’d vote for him on that one issue alone. It’s that important, or it will be in the near-future.
I refuse to join those who say “resistance is futile.” I refuse to give up. If we do then it truly will be over, as our collective future is inextricably tied to the Internet and the degree to which others are allowed to gather and use our personal information.