Reuben Binns

Researching Personal Data

Experiments in partial Facebook secession

If Facebook were a state, it would be the third most populated in the world, just ahead of the USA and behind India. Like the former Soviet Union, which occupied the same third place slot at its peak, the state of Facebook rules over a geographically and culturally diverse citizenry. And like the USSR in 1990, this disparate social network may be at the beginning of its decline.

I’ll resist the urge to draw further fatuous parrallels – between, say, Stalin’s centralised planning and Zuckerburg’s centralised business model, or Gorbachev’s collapsing economy and the social network’s dismal performance on the stock market – fun as they might be. There are early signs of Facebook’s eventual dissolution, cracks which have appeared over the last six months. Facebook lost 10 million US visitors in the last year. Monthly visits in Europe are down. Its incredible international growth rate is beginning to plateau. And ‘Home’, the Facebook-smeared Android smartphone interface, appears to have flopped.

I’m just one data-point in all this, but I’ve been quietly engineering my own secession from Facebook over the last few weeks. I won’t go over some of the good reasons to leave Facebook (Paul Bernal has eloquently outlined ten of them already). I’ve always been a reluctant user, but equally reluctant to leave. Enough of my personal (and worryingly, professional) communication seems to come through Facebook that leaving altogether doesn’t seem to be an option, yet. Instead, I’ve taken a less drastic approach in the interim, which means I should never have to log in to Facebook again (except, perhaps, to delete my account).

  • Exported (almost) all my data
  • Removed (almost) all the information from my account.
  • Deleted the Facebook and Facebook Messenger apps from my smartphone and tablet.
  • Set up RSS feeds for pages.
  • Set email notifications for group posts and events.
  • Exported all my friend’s birthdays into a calendar, and set up a weekly update of upcoming birthdays.
  • Finally, exported all my friend’s email addresses, so I can communicate via email instead. This was the hardest one. I had to sign up to Yahoo Mail (the only service Facebook will allow email imports into), and then run a scraping script on a html page to get them into a CSV format, before finally importing that into my email contacts. Thanks to @joincamp for the guide.

This way, I still get to hear about the important stuff, without exposing my eyeballs, or much of my data, to Facebook. It’s also given me the chance to experiment with other means of personal communication. Email feels very personal again. I’m working on my telephone manner. Postcards are also fun.

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