To Leave Facebook

I recently received the following email:

NOTICE OF PENDING CLASS ACTION AND NOTICE OF PROPOSED SETTLEMENT
ANGEL FRALEY V. FACEBOOK, INC.
You are receiving this e-mail because you may have been featured in a “Sponsored Story” on Facebook prior to December 3, 2012.
A federal court authorized this Notice. This is not a solicitation from a lawyer.
Why did I get this notice? This Notice relates to a proposed settlement (“Settlement”) of a class action lawsuit (“Action”) filed against Facebook relating to a particular Facebook feature called “Sponsored Stories.” According to available records, you may be a “Class Member.”
What is the Action about? The Action claims that Facebook unlawfully used the names, profile pictures, photographs, likenesses, and identities of Facebook users in the United States to advertise or sell products and services through Sponsored Stories without obtaining those users’ consent. Facebook denies any wrongdoing and any liability whatsoever. No court or other entity has made any judgment or other determination of any liability.

What relief does the Settlement provide? Facebook will pay $20 million into a fund that can be used, in part, to pay claims of Class Members (including Minor Class Members) who appeared in a Sponsored Story. Each participating Class Member who submits a valid and timely claim form may be eligible to receive up to $10.

So, to sum that up: Facebook can use my face and my name to sell a product, without my consent, and in compensation they offer me 10$. My identity and my privacy are worth 10$. Really? As the latest on a pile of insults and privacy violations from Facebook, this has led me to plan a “break up” with the social media monopoly. Yet, finding a comparable and superior option for social networking has been difficult. I’m on the fence about how exactly to keep in touch with my 390 Facebook friends and still retain a shred of privacy.

The case for leaving Facebook is more than obvious at this point. The “10 reasons to leave Facebook” post by IT/Media Law expert Paul Bernal is informative, and covers the issues of privacy, monopoly, and dependency, among others. German researchers have found that hanging out on Facebook can leave one feeling miserable. I find that the experience of being on Facebook has changed completely from what it was when I first joined.

The question is, what other site or service can provide all of the following in one place?

  • Sharing albums of photos
  • Private messages to and from friends
  • Commenting on a “wall” or semi-public forum
  • Maintaining a profile that only approved “friends” can access
  • Chatting
  • Apps and games (although I personally have avoided those because of privacy concerns)
  • Sharing status updates and links to news, media, or funny images

In his post, Bernal suggests a strategy of decentralization-
“..use different services for different features. Use one provider for email, use twitter for mass communication, set up your own blog on a different provider, put your photos on your own website, play games on yet another and so forth…”
So, following this logic, I could use Flickr for photo sharing, email and IM/IRC for messaging and chatting, forums for semi-public sharing, G+ for my profile, steam or the Google Play store for apps and games, and Twitter for status updates. Not a bad idea, except that each of these platforms comes with it’s own privacy and security concerns.

Other alternatives exist: QuitFacebook.info has a list of facebook-like options that tend to emphasize privacy, open source, and distributed networks. The most promising of the list include Diaspora, Freedombox, and MediaGoblin. The problem in this case is that distributed networks require users to run their own server. I am lucky enough to have space on a server to play around with, but few of my friends have the time or inclination to set up something like that for themselves. Then again, getting space on a server or setting up a small home server is becoming more and more accessible to the average consumer. Perhaps this won’t be a barrier in the coming years?

Considering the options brings up the bigger question of privacy on the internet in general. Is privacy a realistic thing to pursue or to expect in today’s world? Is the concept outdated? I can’t stand the idea of Facebook putting my face in an advertisement, but maybe I’m just being touchy?

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