how and why to quit and what to do next.
Earlier this week I posted the excerpt below on Facebook, explaining why I shortly plan to delete my account. Please feel free to copy and paste to your own accounts, changing whatever details are appropriate (the contact info is all fake). If you do, please don’t mention me unless you are certain it will help. I’m very vocal on a variety of issues across Medium, Quillette, and Twitter that I don’t want to distract from the simple message of this post.
My very rough summary would be that Google and Facebook run the largest spy operations in history, and profit from the extent to which people do not realise they are being spied on, which the companies deliberately do not make clear at the outset and then further obscure as you use them. I didn’t want to clutter the cleaner message of ‘I’m leaving, please join me’ by cramming in this philosophical reasoning behind the decision, but I suppose it depends on your audience.
Also, below the excerpt I list some resources that I neglected to include in the post, for this reason, if people do want to follow up. I provide very little of my own commentary since I would just be rehashing what I’ve learned from these resources anyway and I encourage readers to look into them and make up their own minds.
Given I primarily use Facebook for the occasional joke, this supposedly serious post might seem out of character, and probably pretty pretentious. If you aren’t into this sort of thing, no hard feelings, but I want to make the case on the off-chance I convince a few people.
I have increasingly come to think that Facebook and Google are basically the most evil corporations in the world that aren’t actually doing anything illegal. We opt in to their evil, and I would like us all to opt out. I won’t detail my objections here as they aren’t simple and none are original anyway, but I am happy to discuss in messenger, or by text, in person, etc., whatever works.
I have weened myself off Google’s products completely, but Facebook is more difficult because you are all here! yaaaay, friends! So rather than just whine about this, or vanish without a trace, I want to canvas for other options. Does anybody have recommendations? I am exploring several myself but I don’t want to advertise any I don’t completely vouch for.
The long-term goal here is obviously to get off Facebook completely and not feel bad about it. Part of that will require finding the same people elsewhere, so expect to see me shortly posting endorsements for other services, if I come to both really enjoy any and be completely convinced of their superiority to Facebook on ethical grounds. I promise this is the only thing I will be doing (publicly at least) for however long I am still here — if that sounds really annoying, please unfriend me (no seriously, this will give me even less of a reason to stay and make it all easier)
But if that sounds interesting, please get in touch — all the better if we haven’t spoken in a while. That is what Facebook is supposedly for, anyway J
I’ll say all this again before eventually deleting, but my email is firstname.lastname@example.org and my phone number is 07712 345 678. I recently got Twitter too (@yourname) because I am convinced that although it is not perfect, it is far more of a force for good. Feel free to reach out on any of these, and expect recommendations shortly.
The single most important source in my thinking on this topic was Who Owns the Future? by Jaron Lanier. I can’t even think exactly how to summarise this as it was one of the most startlingly original books I’ve read in recent years. I actually plan a longer review essay in the near future, but the thesis would be something like this: tech platforms, and also incidentally many hedge funds, run on the basis of an economic model never before seen that gives them a kind of ‘ownership’ not acknowledged by law, but which we ought to take more seriously. That doesn’t do it justice, but then nothing I can say really will. Just read, will you?!
I also recommend Life After Google, to which the title of this post is an allusion. Weirdly, Gilder seems to get a lot of minor details about blockchain wrong (not even technically wrong so much as confused as to the correct interpretation) and I didn’t like it anywhere near as much as his Life After Television and Knowledge and Power, but on the specific topic of ethics in technology it was very good.
Any of the recent public statements from Brian Acton, Jan Koum, Kevin Systrom, and Mike Krieger — the founders of WhatsApp and Instagram, respectively — are good too, and I won’t do them the injustice of paraphrasing. I would highlight that Acton was so offended by all of this that he walked away from $800m just to better make his point.
At a more abstract level, Free Software: Free Society and The Cathedral and the Bazaar, are truly essential texts of the free and open source software movements. This isn’t a necessary connection to make, and many people probably couldn’t care less about how software is actually produced — or maybe might care but had never thought about it. But the thesis I have developed becomes even sharper and more holistic with these ideas in mind.
I have to give some credit to Elizabeth Warren as well. I think her Medium post on the topic was slightly ludicrous clickbait not to be taken seriously in its particulars, but she is at least thinking along the right lines with regards to the clearly monopolistic power of ‘big tech’, while most others seem terrified of disputing the profit motive of proudly American firms out conquering the world, and making it a better place. If you didn’t see this TechCrunch story on Warren’s stance, make sure you are sitting stably before you fall over laughing (it’s a 2 minute read, so click it right now, please). Thanks to the EU, for the most insane regulation of all time in GDPR, that punishes absolutely everybody except those it was supposed to. Grappling with just how stupid this is was useful not just to frame my own thinking on the tech and regulatory issues, but as a kind of morality tale as to why populist rage with zero technical understanding shouldn’t fuel regulatory action.
Shout out to Kara Swisher too, who has been railing against the irresponsibility of ‘big tech’ on Recode Decode for years. And finally, Ben Thomson, whose newsletter Stratechery is excellent (I have cited it previously), and who gave an aptly titled talk long before it was cool: Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram was the greatest regulatory failure of the past decade.
I would enormously appreciate any audience recommendations — please leave any in the comments for all to see.
On alternatives, I will quickly roll off a few below. As per the excerpt above, I can’t completely vouch for these yet, but as you are friendly internet strangers and not my own actual friends, there is no reason you can’t have a look. Also, full disclosure, some of these are referral links. I don’t want to try to sneakily pass that off, but equally, if I’m on them already, why not?
Minds.com as an open source social network, Brave Browser for private and ad-free browsing with built-in TOR extension (both working on an ERC20-enabled micropayment ecosystem) DuckDuckGo for open source and private search, ProtonMail for e2e encrypted email, and Signal for literally the exact same thing as WhatsApp, built by none other than Brian Acton. Telegram seems good as a kind of mashup of email and file sharing but I can’t completely vouch for the management model. If you want to go a step further and move (some portion of) your finances into more self-sovereign tools, I recommend either the Square Cash App or Abra. Cash is good as a kind of Facebook-like overlay for bank transfers with more or less the same functionality as Venmo in addition, but will also let you set up a wallet linked to your account to buy bitcoin. Abra is similar — less user friendly and honestly more difficult to grasp on the back-end (if you are into that sort of thing) but a much larger range of currencies — both fiat and crypto — that you can tie to your account and access whenever, wherever.
Two huge disclaimers on these last two: firstly, they are run by for-profit businesses that have KYC and AML requirements so this is by no means ‘going off grid’ or anything as romantic or borderline illegal. They are highly regulated money exchange businesses. They just give you more control, but they are no private bitcoin wallet. Secondly, this is absolutely in no way a recommendation to invest in the assets mentioned above; it is simply a recommendation of these specific products for people who already know what they are doing. Please speak to a professional investment adviser if you are at all unsure about this or any other topic relating to your personal finances, and don’t invest anything you aren’t prepared to see go to zero.
Again, suggestions in the comments, please — I would like to know how best to function in my Life After Facebook :)
follow me on twitter @allenf32