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[liberationtech] CNN writer on leaving Facebook

Paul Bernal (LAW) Paul.Bernal at
Tue Feb 26 12:13:20 PST 2013

Hi Jon

Thanks for the detailed response - and I can see your points. Indeed, to an extent I agree with them!

I'll try to do a more detailed response tomorrow, but just a few points now.

1. On privacy, I agree, it's more about helping get a more 'savvy' community than anything else.

2. On real names, it's as much about fighting the bigger battle for the need to allow anonymity. If real names becomes the norm, we're in real trouble when the going gets tough...

3. The monetization issue isn't just about what's happening now, but that there's an increasing drive to squeeze revenue from our data. Sponsored stories, the Instagram saga etc just give a clue where it's headed.

4. Profiling is an issue for more people than you might think - the Raytheon RIOT stuff hints at that. More on that tomorrow!

5. Again, think of the extended use of this - Facebook will be mined more and more by those with less benign uses.

6. Yes, there ARE alternatives, but who's using them? Ask a class of my students, and they're ALL on Facebook...

Much more tomorrow I hope!



On 26 Feb 2013, at 19:37, "Jon Lebkowsky" <jon.lebkowsky at<mailto:jon.lebkowsky at>> wrote:

I want to respond to Paul Bernal's post about why to leave Facebook, point by point.

Privacy: I think the problem is not a lack of privacy, but an expectation of privacy on the part of the user, who should definitely leave if she considers privacy important. If you don't want to "be seen," by all means "stay indoors."  I've never assumed that the information I've dumped online is private, in fact I think that would be a crazy assumption. What we really need is digital literacy education to help users understand the the nature of the beast.

Real Names: Sure, that's an issue for some, and for them, Facebook is probably not the platform of choice. But it doesn't bother me - I can see arguments for an against anonymity, valid on either side. I think it's important to have the possibility of anonymity in some contexts. Facebook doesn't have to be one of them.

Monetization: How is Facebook making money with my data, other than by serving me targeted ads? I'm not posting anything there that's especially valuable. And I wouldn't. I don't think my "personal information" is such a big deal, and while I've always argued that we should be able to control our data and how it's used, I wouldn't leave Facebook over this issue. I might nag 'em about it, though.

Profiling: I've never been able to see the issue here. Somebody gathers my data to serve me ads for items I might want vs ads for items I don't care about: where's the harm? I guess the worst case is that they might inform the "authorities" that I'm a subversive whacko bohemian (who's also got a boring suburban middle class alternate aspect)... I can't see how that will ever bite me on the ass, though.

Facial recognition: To me, it's a trivial concern when it's happening on Facebook. The bigger concern is broader and more sinister uses.

Monopoly: Facebook is big, for sure, but I'm not seeing it as a monopoly. There are many ways to aggregate and share online. Facebook happens to be pretty good, and it's attracted so many users that it has a powerful network effect, but that actually makes it more useful. It doesn't feel like the phone company (I'm old enough to remember THAT monopoly).

I probably shouldn't have taken time to write this response, but I think Facebook-slamming is similar sport to "I don't watch television, except for PBS..." I wouldn't want to make anyone feel guilty about either of those choices.  The Internet is in deep trouble, there are real risks that we'll lose this amazing free space over issues related to the value it's created by being so free. I'd rather focus there, than on Facebook, which is the least of my worries.

~ Jon

On Tue, Feb 26, 2013 at 9:47 AM, Michael Rogers <michael at<mailto:michael at>> wrote:
Hash: SHA1

On 25/02/13 19:03, Raven Jiang CX wrote:
> I think a subtle difference is what exactly the bargain entails. In
> the case of television advertising, it's a relatively
> straightforward exchange of your attention for entertainment.
> Facebook is asking for more than that. The marketing is less
> oppressive because they receive the addition payment of your
> personal information. No one really knows what that information in
> aggregate is worth or can be capable of achieving in the long term,
> so I suppose implicitly the users (at least those aware of this
> bargain) are betting on it being worth less than the services
> Facebook provides.

I don't think framing it as an individual bargain fully captures
what's going on here. Each user gives Facebook information not only
about themselves but about the people they know (including those who
don't use Facebook). So it's a social dilemma or tragedy of the
commons: the cost of each person's privacy choices is shared by
others. Each user of Facebook produces a negative externality that
affects those around them. As such, perhaps the appropriate metaphor
is not "personal information as property" but "surveillance as pollution".


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Jon Lebkowsky (@jonl)
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