We all know Facebook won’t let you quit: you can deactivate an account, but not erase it. Many of us, who value our privacy, think this is disgraceful and arrogant. Facebook seems to think it owns us. But why worry? Just make sure all the information they have about you is false.
When I first heard about, and joined, Facebook it seemed like an amusing idea – for about a week. That’s about as long as it took to hook up with a bunch of old friends with whom I’d lost contact. Then the annoyances really set it – people badgering me to install applications to do things whose triviality and pointlessness make Big Brother seem positively constructive. Then there’s the advertising. And above all, the dawning realisation that I was doing all the work to make Mark Zuckerberg rich – by providing lots of intimate details about myself that he could sell.
Facebook is a waste of bandwidth. So why not leave? The answer is, they won’t let you. Your data is just too valuable to them. They can’t let you go.
The profile you build about your tastes, friends, purchasing habits, activities, affiliations and lifestyle is a goldmine for marketeers (and possibly government agencies – but more of that another time). Organisations cannot get information about you that is this detailed from any other source. And you do all the work, providing the data for free.
So Facebook’s value – on the stock market and to its customers (the people paying for information about you) – depends entirely on the quality of its data.
Of course, it is already awash with garbage. Even the briefest search turns up pages of people with highly dubious names – obviously fake accounts. There is, of course, no checking to ensure that what you say about yourself on Facebook is true. For all they know, those corporations so hungry for the information Facebook sells may be buying pure crap. We can help ensure that’s true.
One assumes they have methods for filtering out the most obvious rubbish. For example, those accounts with truly weird names and very little activity probably go to the bottom of the pile. We can’t know for sure, though: that’s why I adopted this technique – which I like to call ‘Tainting the Data‘ – for screwing with Facebook.
First, a little more about this business of deactivating an account. If you choose this option, Facebook tells you that you can reactivate at any time simply by logging back in. There is no simple option to have them erase all your details from their databases permanently. Steven Mansour, in his post 2504 Steps to closing your Facebook account, did seem to get them to do this, though it took a lot of effort and meant emailing Facebook directly. But note how Facebook’s final message simply said “We have processed your request” without actually saying – unambiguously and in writing – that the account and all the information that once resided in it had been fully erased. And how would you check?
So we have to assume there’s no way of erasing that private data. Why not simply replace it? If the information Facebook has about you isn’t actually about you, then it’s not really invading your privacy is it?
Let’s be clear: the following is an alternative to closing your Facebook account. If you still want to use it in some way – particularly if you want to keep your friends – then this isn’t for you.
And another thing: this is best done slowly. Take one step at a time. That way, as you replace real data with false information, it will migrate unnoticed through Facebook’s databases (including the aggregated versions) and on to its backups.
So let’s start lying.
Post links to websites in which you have not the faintest interest – sites that are entirely irrelevant to you, maybe even in a foreign language you don’t speak.
Trawl Facebook for friends – that is, people you don’t actually know and with whom you have nothing in common. This should be as random as you can make it. Issue lots of friend requests. Do this politely, slowly, but regularly. Most will turn you down. Some won’t. When you get an acceptance, lie about how you ‘know’ this person. One by one, drop your real friends – but not all at once. The relationships between people (ie, your ‘known associates’) is one of the most valuable items of information to Facebook, and certainly to those government organisations. By gradually mixing your fake friends with your real ones, you will create false links that will seriously screw the data.
Change your profile details – your sex, age, location, address, phone numbers, political and religious views (don’t necessarily choose the opposite of how you think – think obliquely), education (award yourself a degree or two), workplaces, even favourite quotes, books & all that. Make sure that nothing you enter actually reflects you accurately in any way at all. And make sure that it is not consistent even with itself (eg, describe religious views as ‘radical muslim’ and favourite author as Sam Harris). If you’ve always dreamed of working for NASA, don’t put NASA as a workplace. Maybe the IRS would be better. If you’re 20 years old, don’t change your date of birth to make yourself 25. Marketers just want to know if you fit in an age range. Become a pensioner. For your profile picture, find a photo of someone you’ve never met, who looks nothing like you, from another country and preferably of an alternate gender.
Write notes about things that have no relevance to you. Cutting & pasting from random websites might work, with each post contain a melange of sentences from different sites. As you add these fake notes, gradually delete your existing, real ones, until they are all gone.
Post nonsense on your own wall. And allow anyone to post on your wall, but gradually delete all posts from people you actually know.
Install applications you find trivial, stupid and annoying. If you feel that way about them, they can’t fit with the real you.
Change your contact email to a disposable Gmail or Yahoo address. Delete your original email address.
You can see where all this is going. Your aim is to have a Facebook account filled with entirely fictitious information, but to have done so over a period of, say, six months, so that it’s hard to tell where the real stuff ends and the fake information begins.
The last step, perhaps, is to change your name. This is a little trickier as Facebook insists on ‘verifying’ the change. Or so it says. I requested a change of name to something that is, frankly, rather unlikely. A couple of days later, the change was made with no further enquiry from Facebook. So far, only one of my friends has noticed that I’ve changed my name and moved to another continent. That said, searching Facebook for my real name still turns up my profile, albeit with the new name. So the account is obviously associated with both names. We’ll see if that remains the situation over the long term (I’ll report back). In any case, it means that, while I might turn up in a search for my name, it won’t be obvious why I’m in the search results.
Then, continue posting only fake information for another six months. Monthly additions should do, just to make the account seem alive. By this time, the fake information should have made it into the aggregated databases that Facebook sells to its customers, and on to Facebook’s own backups.
Finally, once you’re bored with all this, by all means deactivate the account and say goodbye to Facebook forever. You could try to get it erased completely (first, deleting everything, as per Steven Mansour’s method). Even if Facebook hangs on to the data, they’re keeping garbage.
One word of warning, though. All that original, true information you currently have on your account may not be gone forever. Even though you’ve replaced it, it may be somewhere in Facebook’s databases.
For example, you might have originally listed your religious beliefs as “evangelical nutjob” and have now changed it to “kitten-sacrificing satanist” (though, come to think of it, from a marketing perspective those two are probably equivalent). It’s entirely possible that Facebook will store both descriptions, and any others you care to add. It probably keeps everything you’ve ever entered. Nevertheless, the tainted data will go some way to offsetting and diluting the truthful stuff in terms of making the information useless to the people buying it (how will they know which is true?).
If you follow these instructions, and want to be part of the Taint the Data campaign, drop me an email at: tainted at freeinfidel dot com with a link to your tainted Facebook page – but don’t do it from Facebook. That would be too easy for them to monitor.