Social. Private. Open. Pick three.

I’ve uninstalled Facebook and Facebook Messenger from my phone, and am no longer going to be checking the Facebook or Messenger websites. I still want to make it easy for people to get ahold of me, which you can find more about below.

This has been a long time in the making for me. Almost 2 years ago I restricted my use of Facebook to 30 minutes a day. Shortly after that I uninstalled the Facebook app from my phone. Around a year ago I killed my News Feed with a Chrome extension. I spend no time using the core Facebook product anymore.

The only thing left to go was Messenger. I used Messenger almost exclusively in college both for chatting with friends but also for reaching out to people I happened to meet. Today, I’ve finally uninstalled Messenger from my phone.

It’s rare right now for people to actively leave Facebook, but a handful of people wish they could or are trying to. Since it’s so uncommon, here’s why I’ve made this choice:

Facebook Abuses Privacy

It’s well-known that Facebook’s ad-based revenue model involves meticulously tracking users’ behavior throughout Facebook and all across the Internet. Facebook nominally allows users to control their privacy settings, but these overwhelmingly focus on interpersonal privacy. We have far less control over Facebook selling our personal information. This has been written about extensively, but here are some links:

Privacy is a sneakily important topic. George Orwell’s 1984 is actually a really fascinating book, and I’d highly recommend it. Orwell weaves a compelling story of personal struggle, political commentary, forbidden love, and distopian conclusions that leaves no question why it’s still a classic.

When you have it, it’s easy to forget what kind of world it would be if we gave it up.

Facebook Is a Threat to the Open Internet

With regard to the Internet, I’m definitely an idealist.

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.

– John Perry Barlow, A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace

Barlow wrote this letter in 1996—over 20 years ago. We owe a debt of gratitude to all those who worked to make the Internet a tool that anyone can use. Nominally, Facebook’s goal of a more interconnected world is in line with this original vision. But counterintuitively, much of what Facebook is working towards tears down the progress we’ve already made.

To read more about this, I suggest The Web We Have to Save. After being pardoned from Iranian imprisonment for being an open web advocate, the author gives his perspective on what happened to the Internet over the 6 years he was away from it.

It’s not too late to stop this. The Internet was made to be open, and we can still make sure that it is.

We Have The Technology

I don’t want the effects of my choices to infringe my friends and family’s freedoms. I need to make myself available online in as many ways as possible—with open, private systems as the default. But by continuing to use Facebook, I make the default implicitly closed-off and privacy-invasive.

There are lots of fascinating new technologies in this space which I’d love to see become the default:

But Jake, the hypocrisy!

When talking about this before, people have brought up some hard questions that I’ll pre-emptively address here.

“Couldn’t you say the same things about Google?”

You’re right. Between Search, Chrome history, Gmail, Maps, Docs, YouTube, and the fact that I browse the Internet signed in, Google probably knows more about me than Facebook!

That being said, I’m not at a spot right now where I can leave Google. Running a personal mail server turns out to be not that easy. Google Docs is near ubiquitous for collaborating on document drafts, with no high-quality, open replacement. I could switch from Chrome to Firefox, from Google Search to Duck Duck Go, or take a number of other measures.

But I’d like to think through these changes rigorously first. For example, if I naively switched from Chrome to Firefox, but didn’t change my search engine, have I changed anything? Even though right now the focus is on switching away from Facebook, that doesn’t mean that I’m ignoring everything else. I just want my decisions to be cost-effective.

“Do you really not support anything Facebook does?”

I actually have a huge amount of respect for many engineers from Facebook. They’re pioneering scaling web services, have helped train thousands of people on how to design usable web interfaces, and are one of the best companies for releasing open source software. I’m personally a huge fan of React, Flow, and Immutable.js.

Regardless of what I do in the short term, Facebook will continue to train engineers to scale large systems, write maintainable software, and contribute to open source. Even if Facebook’s core product went under, Facebook’s existing open source projects would live on through their public communities.

With regard to open source specifically, what we really want is to find better ways to build and grow open source communities. Mozilla and Redhat are fascinating case studies for companies releasing open source software, but not everyone can follow this model. Patreon and Kickstarter have helped fund individual maintainers, and there are similar efforts to grow support at the community level. Even switching from corporate ownership to corporate donations would improve certain communities.

“Are you saying that Facebook’s service provides zero value?”

Like with any service, you pay a cost To be clear: I’m talking about both monetary and social costs throughout this section.

to use Facebook’s service, and receive value in return. I judged what I gave up and what I got back and realized I was net negative in terms of value.

For the most part, this deficit comes from the high cost, as opposed to low value—Facebook still provides a lot of value. Even for Facebook users that only use Messenger there’s a lot of value; when you throw into the mix the value people get from features like being able to share posts and participate in groups, Facebook’s value prop gets even larger.

The main value I got from Facebook was sending messages. Given that there are other ways to send messages at a lower cost, this choice makes sense for me.

Contacting Me

Going forward, here’s how you can reach me:

This is definitely a case of “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” None of these is a silver bullet, but each is strictly better than Facebook in terms of privacy or openness.

The web was originally built for the people. Along the way, we sacrificed individual freedom for collective adoption. We’re now posed to take back those freedoms while without risking privacy or openness.

What are we waiting for?

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