Woz deactivates his Facebook account

USA TODAY reported Sunday that Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak deactivated his Facebook account. “Woz” said “The profits are all based on the user’s info, but the users get none of the profits back.” I read this quote and I wondered where he had been. Certainly we’ve learned more details in recent weeks about how Facebook makes their money, but I didn’t think the general mechanism was hidden. Woz is much smarter than I could ever hope to be, so I found his sudden realization a bit confusing.

Now Woz is hardly the first person to deactivate his account. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, “#DeleteFacebook” is a popular topic. But despite the popularity of the topic, users don’t seem to be following through. I still use Facebook, although I’m spending less time on the site. My engagement has been trending downward for a while, and I can’t say that Cambridge Analytica had much of an effect one way or another.

It’s been said a bazillion times before, but it bears repeating: if you’re not paying for the service, you’re the product. I don’t view that as a value judgment, though. I’m willing to trade data for free services that are valuable to me. The question is: does the data I give up equal or exceed the value I get from the product? If it does, I keep using it.

Facebook is a good tool for passively keeping up with people I like. It’s algorithms ensure that I can’t use it to actively keep up on my friends, but it’s better than nothing. I was talking to my friend’s mother over the weekend and she decided to attend her 50th high school reunion because of the reconnections she made with Facebook. Meanwhile, I haven’t bothered with any high school reunions in part because Facebook allows me to keep in touch.

As with any economic exchange, each person needs to weigh what they give and what they get. Facebook can stand to be more transparent about what happens with user data (though that’s not even the issue they need to be most transparent about). But just because the users aren’t getting the profits, that doesn’t mean they’re not getting value.

3 thoughts on “Woz deactivates his Facebook account

  1. “Facebook is a good tool for passively keeping up with people I like.”

    I am not sure I can agree.

    Facebook is a service which allows me to keep track, somewhat, with friends and family, with the latter, esp the ones in other states, being my priority. I cannot object to “tool for passively keeping up with people”.

    It’s “good” I keep hanging on.

    The UX was dreadful from the first I used it, and each iteration has made it worse. It encourages the worst kind of (lack of) interaction.

    If nothing about Facebook Quizes (I literally see them nowhere else on the Internet) and how they leak info, and how Facebook Quizes were used to identify targets for media manipulation to throw elections and sow discord was true, it would still be a poor tool for passively keeping up with people.

    It’s just the only one my parents and my cousins are on.

  2. To a large extent “good” in this context is entirely defined by the network effect. MySpace, for all its glitter gifs and auto-play songs, was a good platform for the same purpose right up until the moment it wasn’t (i.e. when everyone jumped ship for Facebook). I agree that Facebook encourages content-free interactions, but as long as its the place where the people I want to keep up with are, it’s the only good platform for that purpose.

  3. I also don’t get the shock from many people, like Woz and Cory Doctorow, that Facebook was selling their data. This isn’t exactly a new model; if you put your email address on Usenet, you were going to get spam, the infamous MS Office ’98 (version???) data mining fiasco, etc. The social media can only mine what you put on it. If they’re violating their user agreements, then punishment should be severe. (Unfortunately, precedents, like the Microsoft antitrust remedies, show that the punishment will likely be light.)

    “the only good platform” is a specious argument. Google+ and diaspora* are two of the alternatives available. You can find out who wants to keep in touch with you through an “I’m leaving to go … Please join me there.” Facebook post.

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