Deleting Facebook won’t work. Is it time to accept the price of free services?

In the wake of news emerging about Facebook allowing third parties to harvest data from the platform, a movement of people deleting their accounts is growing. #DeleteFacebook has gained traction across other social media platforms, in large part thanks to high profile users such as Steve Wozniak, Elon Musk and even Cher closing their accounts.  

And while these acts of protests have continued to bring bad press, but it’s unlikely it will cause any lasting damage to the company – even Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower on Cambridge Analytica’s data, has said that a boycott won’t be the answer.

And with Facebook reaching a valuation of over $500billion last year but user growth slowing, should it be surprising that from a money-making point of view at least – users have become the product?

As Sam Wolfson wrote for Vice last year, Facebook’s embrace of ads and brands led to those in charge almost losing sight of what Facebook’s actual purpose was. “The problem with the new Facebook is that there is simply not enough meaningful content being generated by users to fill the gap left by brands and publishers,” he wrote; “Most of us stopped handing over our real selves to Facebook a while ago, and let publishers take over.”

That’s reflected with user statistics. The Information found that in 2016 there was a 21% drop-off in user posts, and when speaking to people who have decided to abandon Facebook, that lack of real communication with other people keeps coming up.

With more than a billion active users, the company won’t be worried about a sudden exodus, but it does suggest people are falling out of love with Facebook. That’s what WNOL found when we asked users if the recent news had affected their usage.

For a couple of people they had become disillusioned with social media in general, and would rather communicate directly rather than through networks that are often more “insincere.”

While for others, the recent news proved to be a wake-up call. David, a content marketer, said that checking Facebook had just “become a habit”, and “the exceptionally lax data policies were a nice wake up to reassess what it actually provides. Which for me isn’t a whole lot.”

It goes beyond just Facebook. Google, for example, offers a range of tools including free cloud storage, and an office suite that for many can replace expensive alternatives. In return though, Google are able track your purchases, internet history and location all tied to your account.

A Twitter thread from Dylan Curran, an online privacy consultant, details just how much apps are able to track on its users if they are given permission.

Google want all this info so they can put it all together to create targeted ads which are more accurate for each user. As they are personalised, they’re more likely to be successful, so advertisers are willing to pay more for.

Here’s how to find out just how much data Facebook, Google and Twitter have stored on you;

With user experience catering more for advertisers than actual users, WNOL tried to gauge a response from users to see whether recent news has made them reconsider their relationship with the internet’s giants – or whether their data is a fair price to pay for free services.

Overall we found that there was an acceptance that this is how companies fund the service, even if it was with some reluctance. Matt, a 21-year old retail worker, told me that he felt “uncomfortable” with the revelations, but added that it doesn’t change that it’s “still necessary to use Google and Facebook,” adding that he thinks “they need to be more open about the data and how they’re collecting it.”

While there was also some apathy to the news, Minnie, a student, told me “I’m not bothered about it, I didn’t even know it was happening” and suggested that as long it hasn’t affected her, it’s not worth much concern. Gabriel echoed the view, saying that “when you sign up you should accept that you don’t have control over that data and you should be responsible with what you share.”

Both from the reaction to users we spoke with, and a general consensus from commentators, is that we know that these companies are collecting information but clueless to what that data actually is, and how it has been collected.

And with Mark Zuckerberg being called to speak before congress in the US, with other Facebook executives ordered to speak in front of the UK parliament, it seems likely there will be some legislative measures to move towards greater transparency.

But in the long term Facebook remains the largest social networking site by hundreds of millions of users and Facebook Inc., has acquired more than 50 companies, ranging from Whatsapp and Instagram, to virtual reality giants Oculus.

That means any hint of Zuckerberg’s empire collapsing have been greatly exaggerated. He may be embarrassed by the past month, but he remains largely unscathed. And he’ll Like that.

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