How many times have you checked your social media feeds tonight? It's a love/hate relationship for a lot of people. There are privacy concerns and it can take up a lot of your time. As it turns out, more people are “breaking up” with Facebook for good.
“I’ve been on Facebook, 15 years maybe, since I was in college,” said James Hong.
A decade and a half after joining the social network, Hong, a 35-year-old non-profit director, said he’s fed up with Facebook. Last month, Hong posted: “Dear friends. I’ve decided to quit February 1st.”
The day before "the big move," Hong connected with KOMO News using Facebook Messenger video chat.
“There’s some irony, we’re chatting over Facebook,” said Hong. “Yes. I’m going to delete all of it.”
He admitted, he was a little nervous. He said Facebook has made it convenient to connect with friends and helped him with his community activism work. The powerful platform has more than 2.2 billion users. But, Hong says the social network can be a time-sucker.
“A couple hours a day, just scrolling passively, not doing anything useful,” said Hong.
He also ditched Facebook to protect his privacy.
“I really am just concerned about how Facebook has been handling user data and sharing your personal information to other companies for ads and things like that. Frankly, I don’t know the depth of what they do with all that information. I think that ‘not-knowing’ is very concerning to me,” said Hong.
“I’ve been aware of a lot of privacy Facebook concerns for quite a while,” Hong went on to say. “I think it’s just that tipping point, again a week ago, that pushed me over the edge and I decided to go for it.”
More people are questioning if their information is truly safe on the social network.
Samantha Matthews, a third-year law student at Seattle University, also logged off for the same reason.
“A couple of my friends have deleted it and I’ve de-activated my Facebook,” said Matthews.
David Putnam, 65, works is in the tech industry. He deleted his Facebook account almost a year ago right after the Cambridge Analytica controversy.
An FTC investigation revealed that data from 87 million Facebook users was acquired by the political data analytics firm without their permission.
“When I saw that, I deleted the account because that was ridiculous,” said Putnam.
Other stuff about Facebook also worried Putnam. He would do simple searches.
“One day, I’m just searching the internet for pictures of Pacific Grove, California,” said Putnam.
And then, he’d see ads for those things pop up on his cellphone.
“That was a big eye opener,” said Putnam. “Somebody collected that information and immediately sold it to someone. That’s scary.”
Hong has no regrets about deleting his account.
“I didn’t understand what Facebook was doing with my data until I downloaded a copy of it and saw that basically they had a profile about me on things they thought I would be interested in,” explained Hong. “It had about 3,500 different companies that had accessed my information. That’s more companies than I think I’ve ever personally interacted with, some I’ve never heard of.”
He went on to explain, “It’s Facebook mining my data or mining data from my friends. That’s when it's information I never gave to them, that’s when it’s very concerning.”
What's Being Done Right Here in Washington State to Protect Your Information:
“As you know in the United States, there is no general privacy rights,” said Alex Alben during a recent lecture at Seattle University Law School about privacy.
Alben is Washington State’s first-ever Chief Privacy Officer, selected by Governor Jay Inslee. He's been on the job since 2015 and has met with Microsoft, Amazon and other tech companies. And, he’s working with lawmakers to crack down on companies that buy and sell your data.
Last month, State Senator Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle) introduced Senate Bill 5376, the “Washington Privacy Act.” California passed a similar law last summer.
“We want to give people basic rights to access their data, to be able to update and correct data. And also, be able to say, 'I don’t want my data to be sold or direct marketed to companies that I have no relationship with,'” said Alben.
Alben went on to explain the act would be enforced by the State Attorney General. There would be a penalty of $2,500 per violation.
“That may not seem like a huge amount but if you multiply that by a data breach that has a million or so people affected, then those numbers start to add up a little bit,” said Alben.
Alben explained last year, the European Union formally adopted a very extensive privacy regime also known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
“If that’s the gold standard of privacy, then why not come up to that gold standard for residents of Washington,” said Alben.
For residents of the Evergreen State, Alben says he’s optimistic.
“I think that a combination of people being much more aware of how their data is used and good laws that set some guardrails around consumer protection are going to help move the privacy meter.”
Advice From WA Chief Privacy Officer on How to Protect Yourself:
Alben said he has two suggestions for Facebook users.
“First, look at the privacy controls that Facebook has and dial back all of your settings so that you’re not actually sharing with large groups of people and you can cut off the ability for people to profile you in terms of advertising,” said Alben.
He went on to say that Facebook is a voluntary platform.
“My second step would be, if it’s not meeting your needs or if you fear that your data is going to be tracked in a way you don’t want it to, then by all means, take a break,” said Alben.
A Clean Break:
David Putnam, James Hong, and Samantha Matthews — they all agree that Facebook can be a great connector.
“Facebook is a really useful, productive. It’s filling a hole,” said David Putnam.
But many people feel Facebook is becoming too powerful.
“Facebook is thinking of merging Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp to possibly have more control over user data,” said Hong.
For them, a clean-break with the digital platform is priceless and it means peace of mind.
“For me, I like to spend quality time with my friends and family in-person,” said Hong.
Response from Facebook:
Facebook has not responded to our requests for comment regarding privacy concerns. On its website it posted this statement:
"...We've now made fundamental changes. This past year we've invested record amounts in keeping people safe and strengthening our defenses against abuse. We've also provided people with far more control over their information and more transparency into our polices, operations and ads."
In a survey conducted by Pew Research Center last September, 54 percent of the people adjusted their privacy settings recently, and 42 percent said they took a break from checking Facebook for several weeks or longer.