Locklin on science

Decoupling from fakebook

Posted in privacy by Scott Locklin on October 5, 2017

I was around for the glory days of the internet: the 90s and early 2000s. Back then it was truly what it was supposed to be; a decentralized network where you could find all kinds of interesting data and interact with people who share obscure interests with you. The browser was organized to help you, rather than monetize you for evil megacorporations. And there was plenty of stuff that wasn’t browser intermediated. Very little of the remaining internet is anything like early libertarian internet. /chan probably comes closest, with some of the blockchain projects being in the correct utopian spirit. There is nothing inherent in modern day internets which prevents us from having decentralized social networks; a protocol which does this could be built directly into browsers, but nobody has done it yet, so the interwebs decay into the corporate surveillance dystopia we have today.

I’ve always disliked Facebook as a company.  Zuckerberg stole the idea from the Winkelvoss entity, and they even lifted the blue and white color scheme and layout from Friendster. I continued to use it for much too long as a way of sharing pictures with my friends and family, a chat application, a sort of recent cache of things I’m interested in, and a way of keeping touch with distant relatives and people I went to grammar school with. Reading Tim Wu’s “The Attention Merchants” finally made me realize there is no reason to use it, and lots of good reasons not to. One big reason not to continue: it’s a waste of time. You only get so much time on earth, and real human interaction is vastly more important than wasting even a few minutes a day on fake human interaction.

One of the sinister things about it is having as an audience hundreds of people you barely know (and if your privacy settings aren’t set to maximum; the entire world). You begin to censor yourself. While this is natural in any community; these people are not really your community.  There is no existing actual community where your Aunt Sadie, three of your ex girlfriends, a half dozen people you knew in the third grade, your second boss and some guy you met at a party once all watch your every interaction. Such an agglomeration of people is actually a nightmare.

Social networks should not be owned by profit-making companies; in this situation you are the product, and your very being is strip mined for nickels and dimes. It is inherently and trivially wrong to do this. We know now that some people catch depression from logging into this corporate dystopia. Some of the finest minds of our generation have worked very hard to make FB as addictive and misery spreading as a slot machine.

Sharing data with your friends, something the internet should be used for, is more difficult without companies like this, but it can be done; Diasporia, Riot/Matrix.org, Mastodon, Telegram, Signal all exist and I encourage people who need this sort of thing to use them.  People who want to keep my contact information in a handy place; use linkedin (which isn’t as obnoxious or time wasting as FB, but is still obnoxious), or find me here.



Even examining FB on their merits as a business: the ads they’ve served me have been a joke from the beginning. “Become a Physics Teacher” was an early and hilarious regular one. I’m pretty sure my Ph.D. in that subject (which was in my profile) qualifies me for such a job without any additional training.  Subsequent ones have been similarly ridiculous; they serve me ads for dishwasher soap (don’t own a dishwasher), money for “refugees” (sorry, I’ve read “Italy and her Invaders” and know how this story ends), NBA (don’t care about sportsball), potato chips (make my own) and various objects I’ve already purchased on the internet, generally from the same company serving a facebook ad. The one overt ad I clicked on in my entire FB career was for a home CRISPR kit, and I didn’t buy it.

These ads are annoying in that they are incorrect, but they’re also annoying in that FB is tracking my browsing in sites that have nothing to do with FB activities. It also offends my engineering sensibilities that Amazon or ebay pays FB for a display ad for stuff they know I have already purchased.  Yes, I understand why this happens: their purchase database doesn’t talk to the ad server, and yes, Amazon can afford to do this, but why should FB get paid even a penny CPM for this? There is also compelling evidence their click traffic is mostly fake. Weird things certainly happen when my non-secure browser window is open to a FB tab; I wouldn’t put it past them. We also know unambiguously that their metrics are science fiction.

If you want to follow me into the unFBing abyss; a checklist for you.

  • For normies who use phone-apps that rely on FB for identity; fix that first. Since I have never and will never do this, it wasn’t a consideration for me; best of luck.
  • Download your data if you want it for something. I did. Some of the links and photos will be amusing later. Some of this data may be useful in the event that some kind hearted software engineer actually create a useful decentralized social network which doesn’t treat its users as cattle to be exploited.
  • Delete your data. They make it really hard to do this, which is one of the reasons I don’t want to persist in using their shitty software. It’s also really hard to get at old data, and their reminders of what  thing I said or did 4 years ago are not helpful. I wanted to use this  and this to help assist in doing so, but they were flakeypants. So I moved on to:
  • Delete your account. Supposedly it will be fully deleted from backups and such in a couple of months. I think EU regulations require a hard delete,  but it isn’t in their T&C. You will get a hilariously misformatted message like this


BR BR BR!!!!

Next up: getting google out of my life as well.


Review and summary of Wu’s book

18 Responses

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  1. mpatton said, on October 5, 2017 at 3:48 am

    I got rid of FB years ago, having joined only to see if my then-young daughter would “friend” me, used it almost not-at-all, and subsequently came to all the same conclusions you did.

    Getting Google out of my life will be much harder, I fear, though it remains a goal. (I’ll follow the link you posted on the matter shortly).

    Google’s interference in my life seems much more subtle and far less ham-fisted than FB’s was, and they offer a lot of visibly valuable services, unlike FB. I don’t yet actively dislike Google to the degree I do FB. But it offends my engineering sensibilities to see how intertwined my life is with Google services, doubly so since I don’t actually trust them any farther than I could throw a bull by the dick.

    Being approximately half as bad as or much more competent than FB doesn’t make them Not Evil, and their services represent potential failure points I’d like to minimize.

    • Maggette said, on October 5, 2017 at 5:40 am

      Dito the google comments here. In addition I have some personal connections to some people working at google doing quite good stuff and they are nice and decent people. I tend to generalize that on the whole company, and that

      • Maggette said, on October 5, 2017 at 5:41 am

        Is stupid.
        Also it is a bad thing from a risk management perspective to depend in so many ways on them

        • Scott Locklin said, on October 5, 2017 at 3:51 pm

          I have friends in both places who are decent people. I’m sure there were decent people working for Pol Pot also.

  2. Maggette said, on October 5, 2017 at 5:36 am

    I do have an FB account….but I never posted there. I don’t visit it. Not once. I don’t think I even know my password.
    Get rid of it. You won’t miss it.

  3. John Baker said, on October 5, 2017 at 3:10 pm

    Ah, I see my take on Facebook is spreading. In my very first blog post I described the FB business model. FB was obviously an ad driven personal data mining operation right from day one. I was never taken in and like you I maintained a small FB footprint primarily to keep in touch with family, “real” friends, and relatives. I kept my privacy settings on maximum and my friend list short. I also refused to post images and photographs knowing they could be used in FB ads. It annoyed me that every new version of FB’s phone apps constantly tried to lower my privacy settings. Then one day, after a recent move, FB crossed my red line. I described My Final Facebook Fuckoff here: https://analyzethedatanotthedrivel.org/2017/01/07/my-final-facebook-fuckoff/

    Dropping FB is like discovering another day of the week: highly recommended.

    • Scott Locklin said, on October 5, 2017 at 6:12 pm

      I didn’t think I was using it much, but I certainly found some spare time when I ejected it from my life.

  4. Anonymous said, on October 5, 2017 at 4:59 pm

    I’ve never used Facebook, tried Twitter once but abandoned shortly (their algorithm can’t understand basic things like quotation, irony, etc so you can get suspended for absolutely benign stuff), haven’t used Google in years (I use DuckDuckGo). My peeve with posts like this is that they always go along the lines of ‘Hey, use this smartphone app’ (Thanks, I don’t use smartphones) or ‘Hey, use this Javascript-only web app’ (Thanks, I don’t run random code from the internet on my computer). A modern variation of the latter is ‘Hey, use this browser-based desktop client’ (Sure, browser engines are the most secure software ever and have never been exploited). Technically I could write a bare-bones dumbed-down hopefully secure client for one of those but they are still silos one way or another (e.g. Diaspora pods are still at mercy of their admins). Chats are mostly a solved problem but social networks aren’t there yet.

    • Scott Locklin said, on October 5, 2017 at 6:16 pm

      Smartphone haters unite!
      I agree, the network effect is what makes these things valuable. It’s tough getting your friends and family to standardize on whatever you end up using. On the other hand, what has anyone ever gotten out of one of these “social networks?” Thinking back to the ones I’ve been involved in (Friendster and Myspace); I got a few dates back in the early days, when I was locked up in a national lab, and wasted a lot of time. I could have watched Mork and Mindy reruns and gone to the bar or cafe for an hour a week extra and had more to show for it in terms of bettering myself and making new friends.

      • Anonymous said, on October 5, 2017 at 9:20 pm

        Individually, in our own homes!
        What I got from Twitter, back when I was reading it, was a bunch of useful links and some (mostly pixel) art. I don’t regret that but, my God, is it noisy. At some point I figured that, no, I don’t wanna be a neural network trained to fish useful stuff out of those sewers. I’ve always found forums and mainling lists much for helpful when making connections. First, you know that people there are into the same stuff as you so there’s already some degree of bonding. And you can always PM or shoot a personal email. A typical social network feels like a public place you’d choose if you wanted to buy some drugs.

        • Scott Locklin said, on October 5, 2017 at 11:45 pm

          Never had a twitter, though I think I signed up under a junk account when scraping some data from it. Reading the funny papers, it appears its main use case is in posting things that will get you fired. Also journalists seem to take it seriously for some reason.
          Forums are better for sure. Stuff like Mastodon could make it easier for people to create new ones that aren’t Reddit. But then, the barrier to entry is useful. Certainly have found more good stuff in forums about a specific thing than forums agglomerated in some megacorp’s server.

  5. Mr DadJeans said, on October 11, 2017 at 1:13 am

    I’m proud of you. FB can die as fast as it was built.

  6. SerbSuperb said, on January 7, 2018 at 8:17 am

    Mr Locklin,

    What are your thoughts on Ripple specifically and the current crypto craze generally? Would love to read an educated breakdown. Is there anyone preaching the truth that you could point to?

    • Scott Locklin said, on January 7, 2018 at 9:27 pm

      I’m part of the crypto craze generally, so I’m not an unbiased observer here. It feels like 95/96 or so. People often say that was a bubble which popped in 99, and it was, but it also changed how the world works. It also shuffled the deck in the valley and created great fortunes, even on some of the bad ideas. Shuffling the deck is good.

      Ripple, Stellar, are good in that they naturally interface with banks; also stronk teams. Right now one of the biggest practical adoption problems of blockchain is it is easy to move value around, but then if you need fiat, you have to do algo trading (or at least pay fees) to pull it out and turn it into fiat; inherently a federated/centralized network. They sort of solve this problem via a federated/centralized engineering solution, and also make it possible to do moar transactions. Of course, if you could just do moar transactions with some other token which is accepted everywhere, that other token can replace fiat, centralized or not. That’s the dream; internet of money. This is my engineering assessment. Really people buy into these things because they see other people doing it; invest in a good signal processing and time series book, then buy and sell trends.

      I haven’t looked at what Bram is doing, but assuming he pointed himself at problems beyond power consumption, his gizmo will probably be the best engineering solution.

      • SerbSuperb said, on January 7, 2018 at 11:16 pm

        Thank you kindly for the reply! The necessity for XRP within the ripple system was a concern for me also (I’ve been sitting on a considerable amount since April)

        Once your projects have made you filthy rich, please find the time to write a book. You’re enduringly one of my favourite people on the interwebs to read.

  7. Nurit said, on July 3, 2020 at 6:52 pm

    Scott, thank you for the recommendations in Brave (browser)…downloaded.
    Getting rid of FB is easy, since messaging software (WhatsApp, Viber, telegram) can substitute for that. Getting rid of Google is way more complicated. Moving away from Gmail can be done, but who does a search engine that is decent other than Google? Any suggestions? And maps…now, that is extremely hard to abandon, there is just no comparison, no one can come close to Google maps, how do we unwind from that position?

    Please share you de Googling journey.

    Twitter is a deep resource of knowledge if used correctly, i.e, access only through browser, never through a native app and just follow people by bookmarking their profiles.

    I agree forums are amazing!

    • Scott Locklin said, on July 3, 2020 at 8:03 pm

      Even shitty 1-man projects like Runaroo are pretty good for most search uses these days. Yahoo, DuckDuck, Qwant are all solid. Protonmail is supposed to be OK: I don’t use it.

  8. Cleetus said, on July 28, 2021 at 11:34 pm

    There are other reasons for avoiding Facebook (and big tech). These are:
    1) You can’t confront your accusers. Anyone can lodge a malicious complaint and you can be banned without ever knowing what the charges are.
    2) If you set up a group page, say for a local computer club, then all sorts of strange people can join. Many of these people had no interest whatsoever in computers. I looked at their Facebook pages and there was not one post that had to do with computers.
    3) In the two years I was on Facebook, I didn’t receive one advertisement that was germane to my interests. So much for targeted advertising.

    Finally everyone should be mindful of this Zuckerberg email exchange:

    Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard

    Zuck: Just ask.

    Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS

    [Redacted Friend’s Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?

    Zuck: People just submitted it.

    Zuck: I don’t know why.

    Zuck: They “trust me”

    Zuck: Dumb fucks.

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