Any opinions expressed here are my own.
Our world stands at the brink of a precipice. Climate change and political instability are fed by technological advancements that exacerbate inequality.
Big Data is one such inequality. Michal Kosinski, a researcher at Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Centre, showed that one year’s worth of Facebook activity was enough to predict a person’s behaviour with more accuracy than a lover (article). That same article reports this method was used by the Brexit campaign and Donald Trump to deal two damaging blows to post-war Western culture. Trump’s campaign targeted black women with a custom video reminding them of a racist speech Hillary Clinton made in the 1990s.
Why is this important? Because no-one else got to see that video.
Democracy relies on debate. We as a society need to disagree on things openly so we can talk it out and find a consensus. This process is painful and imperfect. Targeting advertising at each individual person means our views on reality will diverge so much it becomes impossible for me to talk to my neighbours. This frightening move makes public debate impossible. Long term, I fear for our democracies.
Facebook claim they don’t sell your data. Instead they allow Facebook Applications such as ‘Most Used Words’ to quietly download everything you’ve ever uploaded for free. This data – your data – is not harmless. As shown above it can be used to predict with startling accuracy what political candidates you will support and the evil people who use this data will attempt to prevent you from voting if they don’t like your democratic choice.
I can’t use Facebook any longer. It’s not moral and it’s not safe. I don’t like the changes it has wrought in me, where each day I want a small endorphin hit from logging on. I don’t like the way it lays claim to ownership of my friendships. I don’t like the way it encourages me to neglect my friendships with people who aren’t Facebook users. I don’t like the way it encourages everyone to think of friends as targets for advertising our lives at. I don’t like the way I wish my friends happy birthday because some machine told me to do so.
The biggest draw of Facebook is its network effects – all of your friends are on Facebook, so you want to be on Facebook. In my opinion they’re abusing this power. It’s my moral duty to vote with my feet and so weaken the network effect for all of you, my friends.
On 2017-02-19 I will permanently delete my Facebook account.
I’m not a security professional, so I’m going to tell you what I’m doing while making it clear I have no specialist knowledge. The only way I learn about these things is reading tech magazines and blogs. These are some things I’ve tried to do to keep myself safe online:
- I took a Google Privacy checkup. Took around around 20 minutes.
- I installed the Privacy Badger extension to prevent malicious Facebook tracking of your activity across the entire web. Install and forget.
- I installed the uBlock Origin extension to block adverts and tracking cookies. Install and forget. Remember that newspapers rely on advertising for revenue and square this with your conscience as you see fit.
Moderate Complexity Privacy
- I pay for a VPN to prevent e.g. hotels from snooping on my web activity. I am happy with oVPN. Install and forget, and straightforward instructions are provided by oVPN.
- One could use the Tor Browser to prevent e.g. your hotel or government snooping on your web activity. The Tor Browser would replace your regular web browser. It is free but slower than paying for a VPN.
All of any security effort is a tradeoff. The things I do above are easy. Quitting Facebook will be hard. The Electronic Frontier Foundation gives advice on how to stay safe online. I’m going to have a think about how best to ask people to contact me. My email addresses will stay current.