What’s in It for Me? Why I’m Leaving Facebook for Google+Posted: September 26, 2011
Facebook’s recent announcements regarding their “Timeline”, “Open Graph”, and “Frictionless Sharing” initiatives have again raised concerns about their attitudes toward privacy. It doesn’t help that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg declared in 2010 that “the age of privacy is over,” and this attitude is readily apparent in Facebook’s insidious infiltration of the Internet with their “Like” buttons, which track your activity even if you aren’t logged into Facebook! I won’t get into the technical details, but Nic Cubrilovic covers the issue quite well in his blog.
You may be wondering why Facebook does this. Facebook makes money by selling advertising in much the same way as NBC, People Magazine, and your local paper. The difference is that Facebook is able to offer advertisers something that mass media outlets cannot: they provide detailed information about all their users so that advertisements can be targeted only to the people who are likely to consume what’s being advertised. All of your connections with other people make up what is called a social graph. This information is compiled along with information about the articles you read, the music you listen to, the cat butt photos you find amusing, and everything else you do online to create a disturbingly accurate picture of “who you are.” This, in turn, is used to target advertising at you.
But wait, there’s more! Whenever you link your Facebook account to a third party’s website or application (such as Spotify or Farmville), ALL of your personal information is shared with that third party. And there are no limits to what that party can do with your information. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. Many people are making money off of information about you, and in return you got to play Farmville. Was it worth it?
So now we turn to Google+. How is it different? Google certainly has the capacity to track everything you do much in the same way that Facebook does, but for now, Google claims that they do not compile data about its users in this way. But even if they did, I’m not entirely sure I’d be as bothered by it. Call me naive, but one of Google’s core principles is “don’t be evil,” and I believe they follow this as well as a multi-national mega-corporation can. More to the point, Google has been very forthcoming about what data it collects and how it uses it. Their botched launch of Google Buzz notwithstanding, I feel that Google has done a good job helping its users understand how information is shared, and giving users the tools and knowledge to control that sharing. Facebook, on the other hand, almost seems to go out of its way to make their privacy settings as confusing and opaque as possible. It also doesn’t help that they make drastic changes to the default privacy settings and behavior about every six months with no warning to their users.
So is this just a matter of picking your poison? I don’t think so. The deciding factor for me is the answer to the question, “what do I get out of it?” What do I get out of Facebook? Well, I have a nearly effortless way of sharing what I’m thinking and reading with a group of people who share similar things with me. And that’s it. I don’t use any of the Facebook “apps” because I want to avoid that third-party sharing issue. No one I know uses Facebook invites (or if they do, they don’t invite me anywhere!). I’m really not a fan of putting photos on there because of, again, nebulous language in their terms of service regarding ownership of photos uploaded to their servers. So, that’s about it.
And what do I get out of using Google’s products? So glad you asked! I’ve been using gmail for years, and I love it. I can’t imagine using anything else, and I really hope Google never gives me a reason to want to. Google Calendar is awesome; I can sync my Mac’s iCal program to it if I wanted to, but I don’t because the web-based interface is just as good (or close enough) as the iCal interface. Google Docs is quite nice; I’ve made several documents and spreadsheets with it over the years, and I rarely ever need to fire up Microsoft Office anymore. Ever heard of Google Voice? This is so cool, I can’t believe it doesn’t get more press. It has many uses (such as unifying all of your phone numbers under one number that directs calls where you want, or records incoming calls on voicemail and then transcribes them to email for you). I use it for making free calls from Canada to friends and family in the United States.
And now, of course, there’s Google+, which is like Facebook and Twitter combined, except it’s better than Facebook because it doesn’t have those annoying character limits on posts. It introduced* the idea of Circles so that you can target who you share things with. It is linked with their Picasa photo-sharing site, and it also has a unique feature called Hangouts that allows you to set up video chat rooms for one or more of your friends to join in; what a great tool for collaboration!
In short, I don’t mind if Google targets ads at me based on search terms, or based on the contents of my email, because I feel that I get so much in return from them, and it doesn’t cost me a penny. That’s a pretty good value proposition in my book. That combined with their clear privacy policies makes Google+ a far preferable choice over Facebook, which practically dares its users to leave with every new change and creepy initiative they announce. The time has come for me to accept their dare. I’m leaving Facebook.