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Facebook is a problem. Privacy-wise, it's riddled with concerns, but it's so embedded in many people's lives that it's hard to uproot. I have never used Facebook, so everything I'm going to write below is second-hand; please correct me where needed.

Why worry about Facebook?

Here are some reasons why many people feel that Facebook should not be trusted with the details of your daily life.
  • First off: Mark Zuckerberg is a jerk. He does not respect his users; their privacy, even less so. He's called his users 'dumb fucks' for trusting him. Does that offend you? It probably should.

  • Secondly, privacy settings on Facebook change all the time. They can't be relied upon. If there is something you're not ready to share with the entire world (under your real name,no less), you should not be sharing it with anyone through Facebook.

  • Facebook is not designed to show you what you want to see. It's designed to keep you clicking around within the Facebook walled garden for as long as possible. It is, in fact, designed to be addictive. That shouldn't be a surprise, since many websites are.

  • Facebook tinkers with your emotions in ways that aren't good for you. It actively makes people unhappier.

  • Facebook stores ridiculous amounts of data about its users and probably never deletes it, even after you close your account.

  • Facebook builds a very detailed profile of you, based on your behaviour both on the site itself and on other sites, and uses that for targeted advertising. It also sells this information.

  • That's right: Facebook tracks your surfing even when you're not on Facebook. If you click a 'like' button anywhere on the web, that is of course recorded; if you don't click it, that's fine too. The fact that it's shown in your browser at all is enough to track your online behaviour.

  • Facebook gets information from Google searches that lead you to specific companies' websites. Those companies don't just know you visited their website, they know what you searched for that led you there. And now they can follow up with you on Facebook. All for your own convenience, mind you.

  • Facebook is keylogging your status updates as you type them. So even if you decide never to post them, they're being stored.

  • All this data is in the hands of a US based company. The US government, or any random cybercriminal, can certainly gain access to it. If you don't want to be spied on, don't use Facebook, not even if you're in Europe. EU laws don't protect you.

Getting away

So if you don't want to use Facebook, what other options are there? No worries, it's a wide, wide Web out there. Here are some options, depending on what you use Facebook for. Whether these options work for you, also depends on why you want to get away from Facebook. Always check who owns the platform you're considering joining. This can change rapidly and dramatically!

Part of this information comes from here.

LinkedIn: A professional social networking site with approximately 347 million users worldwide. Good for maintaining professional contacts with colleagues, clients, and others, LinkedIn can also be used for finding jobs and recruiting employees. Now owned by Microsoft.

Twitter: While smaller and more narrow in focus, Twitter is hardly an also-ran. At last count, it boasted over 284 million active users and 500 million tweets a day. It is growing at least as fast as Facebook and is causing quite a lot of waves with a well-publicised role in revolutionary movements in Egypt, Iran, and other countries. Here is information about staying safe as an activist on Twitter.

Pinterest: This platform revolves around the concept of "pinning" interesting photos, web pages, articles, and other content onto virtual noticeboards, then sharing them with people. You can create different pinboards for different interests, events, collections, or whatever you want. You can view things on other people's pinboards and repin them on your own. Pinterest has over 72.8 million users and is growing rapidly.

Instagram: This isn't just a social network, but it is being used as one by many. It's an online mobile photo-sharing, video-sharing, and social networking service that lets users to share images, videos, and words. Instagram says 300 million people use its photo app every month, with 70% of them coming from outside the US.

Tumblr: Tumblr is part blog and part social networking site. Users can create their own blogs and follow others' in a similar way to social networks. Last I checked, it had 420 million users, probably 30-50 of which are active, and 217 million blogs.

MySpace: Originally the big name in social networking, it is most popular with young people and has 50.6 million monthly active members. Following a re-branding, it is now a music-orientated site targeted at young people.

Tagged: A social networking site with approximately 100 million users (but no clear data on how many are active), it is now also known as if(we). It was the subject of significant controversy in 2009 for allegedly using member's email accounts to repeatedly send invites to all of their email contacts.

LiveJournal: Used to be a very popular blogging/networking site, that is still used by many groups in fandom. Currently in Russian hands, and not advertising-free. Faded glory, but still quite usable. But: hosted in Moscow, so don't consider it private or safe.

DreamWidth: Forked from LiveJournal years ago, and the better alternative if you ask me. Popular with fandom, but also good for keeping an online diary that can be as public or restricted as you want it to be. Ad-free, free to use and founded in high ideals.

Diaspora: This is a nonprofit, user-owned and distributed social network that gives you full ownership and control of all the data, photos, writing, etc. that you post. This is in direct contrast to Facebook, whose policy is to use your data and posts however it likes.

Ello: Created by a small group of artists who'd grown tired of clutter, negativity, data mining, and ads. You won't be forced to watch videos or see ads. Instead of being the intended facebook killer, it found its niche as a thriving, supportive portfolio service for digital artists.

Path: A social network that limits you to 50 friends. The idea of this is to allow you to interact with and share your photos, thoughts, and your life, really, with only the people you are closest to.

MetaFilter: Metafilter is a weblog that anyone can contribute a link or a comment to. This website exists to break down the barriers between people, to extend a weblog beyond just one person, and to foster discussion among its members. Also has subsites like AskMefi and FanFare (discussion of popular media like films and books). Good moderation. Good place to find activists.

Reddit: A social news aggregation, web content rating, and discussion website. Reddit's registered community members can submit content, such as text posts or direct links. Registered users can then vote submissions up or down to organize the posts and determine their position on the site's pages. Beware of the dark corners, not all of this site is safe/pleasant.

Medium: in its own words, a place where everyone has a story to share and the best ones are delivered right to you. Every day, thousands of people turn to Medium to publish their ideas and perspectives. Leaders. Artists. Thinkers. And ordinary citizens who have a story to tell.

BookCrossing: a worldwide community of book lovers, who want to make the world into a library by leaving books behind in public places, for others to find.

Sticking around

If you feel that Facebook is something you can't do without, there are still ways to cut down on the tracking and the data gathering. As always, the more of these you can do, the better it is. But even doing just one of them is already an inprovement.
  • Go through your privacy settings with a fine-toothed comb. Some tips here, here and especially here.

  • Harden your browser. Install NoScript (or a different blocker) and disallow Facebook scripts.

  • Have a separate browser (or browser profile) for all your Facebook activity. Allow Facebook scripts only in that one.

  • Don't use the Facebook app on your phone. If you must use Facebook on your phone, do it through a browser. The app is notorious for spying on you. Keep in mind that your smartphone knows exactly where you are
  • Follow the guidelines posted here.

Bonus link!

This browser add-on probably doesn't make Facebook safer, as such, but it seems like it could make it more pleasant and at least better for your mental health: FB Purity.

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