Facebook’s final facepalm

Did you hear about the latest scandal in which Facebook staffers called children “whales,” and discussed the merits of “friendly fraud”?

Probably not … because who can keep track of all the Facebook scandals? In 2018 alone we learned that:
50 million profiles were “harvested” to influence an election
Facebook and some 60 tech manufacturers secretly exchanged user data
A big-time hack hit 30 million accounts
The Pikini app stole (and published) teeny bikini photos
6.8 million users’ photos — even those marked private — were exposed by a bug
Netflix and other companies perused your private messages

And there’s more! You can read the list of all 21 scandals on Wired if you really want to flip out.

But back to the whales and the friendly fraud.

Why is this case so important? Because unsealed documents from a class-action lawsuit show that Facebook deliberately and persistently sought to swindle minors. (My favorite was the internal memo titled “Friendly Fraud – what it is, why it’s challenging, and why you shouldn’t try to block it.”)

According to The Center for Investigative Reporting,

“Facebook orchestrated a multiyear effort that duped children and their parents out of money — in some cases hundreds or even thousands of dollars — and then often refused to give the money back.”

“The mechanism was simple and lucrative,” wrote Roger Dooley in Forbes. “Many free games offered ‘in-app purchases’ — things like weapon upgrades, extra lives, or character costumes. When a small initial purchase was made, often with parental consent, the app maker retained the card information. From that point on, additional spending was as simple as clicking an icon to get an upgrade. Many games didn’t make it clear that real money was being spent.”

According to the court documents, the average Angry Birds player was only five years old — and one teen ran up more than $6,500 in gaming costs. But to the dismay of many parents, Facebook refused to refund the money, instead offering “digital rewards such as ‘flaming swords or extra lives’.”

None of the articles I read disclosed the settlement’s terms, except for the usual press-release mumbo-jumbo (“… we routinely examine our own practices, and in 2016 agreed to update our terms and provide dedicated resources for refund requests related to purchases made by minors on Facebook”).

One final shock

Although I’d been distressed by the campaign influence and hacking scandals, this latest misstep was the last straw for me. Yesterday I went nuclear and permanently deleted my Facebook account.

Facebook permanent deletion

The help pages provided detailed instructions, including how to download everything — your posts, likes, photos, messages, personal information.

And here’s where I got my final shock: Facebook had provided my “personal information” to literally thousands of companies and individuals. (Facebook says it doesn’t sell users’ information, but that smacks of semantic tap-dancing.)

And what does this “personal information” entail? Is it just my email address? A list of my friends? Favorite movies, places I’ve visited, private messages? I don’t know.

What I do know is that in spite of promising that it’s “free and always will be,” Facebook is exacting a very real cost for many who use the platform, whether in money or in privacy. Each of us must decide whether we’re willing to pay the price.

 

77 comments

  1. I’ve considered deleting my account – I much prefer the anonymity and brevity of Twitter – but turns out I can’t cuz I do the social media for my place of employment, and all the accounts are tied to mine cuz I set them up. So, what I did (quite a while ago) was delete most of my personal information, unauthorize all the apps that hook into it, and lock down my privacy settings as strongly as I could. I’m not thrilled by Facebook as a company, but I do think as a means of connecting people it has merit. During this recent weather week from hell here a lot of information for help and resources was shared on Facebook and it became a community gathering place. That’s the best it has to offer, IMHO. It’s too bad that the dark side is so much more prominent. Nothing is all bad or all good, unfortunately. Great post! 🙂

    • You’re so right that nothing is all bad or all good — Facebook included. I really had to think long and hard about my decision because it’s the best way to stay in touch with some of my friends in far-flung corners of the world. Alas. We each have to find a path through this brave new digital world, and yours sounds like the best of BOTH worlds.

      • Well, we’ll see. It definitely requires some thought to navigate this new world, and I’m not sure everyone gives it its due, especially young people. Like any new thing, our maturity level as humans has to catch up and we’re usually woefully slow to make those strides. People get hurt before they know they’re in danger, and that’s sad.

        • “People get hurt before they know they’re in danger, and that’s sad.” You’ve hit the nail on the head! (As always.) It’s easy to get into trouble when we’re making up new platforms and technologies as we go along. And since they’re a reflection of the humans who make them, they’re as subject to greed and corruption as humans are themselves.

          • Unfortunately, that’s very true. The only answer is vigilance, and I’m afraid not many people are paying attention. Just like the endless phone solicitors trying to trick people, and the phishing attacks in our email, predatory practices such as those you reported in your post need to be addressed by our lawmakers, but they’re otherwise engaged minding the head predatory scam artist, so we’re pretty much on our own to educate and protect ourselves. Sad.

          • You’re so right that predatory practices are everywhere, from the scam voicemails to the world’s largest tech companies. But for me some of the worst scams are the ones that profit from our desire to connect with people we love (as Facebook has), be healthy (pharma companies and insurers), or have financial security (Wells Fargo, I’m looking at you). Scams that hit these very basic levels of the Maslow Hierarchy are especially destructive, I think, because they erode our fundamental trust in institutions that really should be on the side of the humans they serve. Alas, money always seems to win. Sigh.

          • It certainly seems that way, I agree. We all feel violated and there’s no one to blame and no one to help. It feels that way, anyway. I don’t know what the answer is. 😦 It’s a different world; especially different in this country.

          • Blame isn’t useful, but I do hold the leaders of these companies responsible for fostering cultures in which profits come above everything else, including their customers’ well-being. Sadly, I also don’t see this changing anytime soon as legislators are approving historic mergers that give consumers both less choice and less control. Sigh.

          • It isn’t just businesses, it’s everything, as you say. All we can do in response is mind our own patch, treat people as they should be treated and try to breathe as much kindness and compassion and right-action as we can into our individual lives. That’s the only control we have.

  2. The latest news reports about Facebook have tipped me over the edge — except that the promotion of my blog that I’m doing there does drive a meaningful number of views. And I’m in a bonkers good group with a bunch of well-known film-photo bloggers there. So I’m deeply torn.

    • I was deeply torn too, Jim — it really is great at connecting like-minded folks (not to mention friends around the world). Another of my lovely readers suggested stripping down your profile to the bare essentials and disabling all apps, which is a good in-between option, I suppose. But having lost all trust in the platform, for me there was no choice. Sigh.

      • Thanks for writing about this, HB and for researching and providing all the links. I’ve heard about half of what you shared, but I’m appalled at what amounts to swindling children. That’s a new low, even for Facebook. I also admire your ability to take a stand and close your account. I’m in so deep, managing pages for Lifted Spirits, Organized at Heart, Gardening Nirvana and then my own personal profile. I enjoy the connections, especially, as you mention, with friends rarely seen due to geography. It would be very hard to give up. You’ve sparked some good conversation, Heidebee.

        • For me it was easy to take a stand (even though i do miss how easy it was to stay in touch with my far-away friends). But for someone who manages as many pages as you do, i imagine it would be nearly impossible to find a more efficient way to communicate with all those audiences. But you’re a smart cookie who knows not to overshare, so you probably have less to worry about than the average bear. 🙂 xo

    • As so often in life, each one of us has to make a decision about what’s worth it … being part of a bad company and by participation keeping alive a company so bad for the whole planet. The do lie, they do betray, they permanently do all the things they promised never to do. I made my decision years ago and I do not miss this company and all its services … not a single day. It’s so easy.

      • You make an excellent point about personal responsibility, Reinhold: We much each make our own choice. Many companies lie and betray (they’re only human, after all). But when a company becomes predatory and malicious, that’s where I draw the line. I’m glad you are at peace with your decision, though. I suspect I’ll feel the same way too. Thank you so much for stopping by!

  3. I joined, reluctantly, around 2008, as a way to organise and share dance events. I left again in 2010. Haven’t looked back. I didn’t like it much back then, when it was all far more simple and inocuous than today. This post is no surprise at all Heide. I’m glad you’re taking a stand and doing what you feel is right for you.

  4. Ps/ A guy I know online is trying out MeWe and likes it so far. They claim to be kind of the anti-Facebook as far as privacy is concerned. I’ve not tried it myself,but it might something you’d be interested in exploring.

    • It sure is a lot of scandals, isn’t it? (Though I guess the definition of “scandal” depends on the beholder.) Although I didn’t write this post to try to sway people one way or another — because we each have to make our own cost/benefit analysis — I’m glad it’s prompting some thought, Tom. This is one of those things that can quickly become a mindless habit … and I know how important it is to you to be MINDFUL. Thank you so much for stopping by!

    • So sorry to be the bearer of all this bad news, M.B. 😦 There are steps one can take to protect one’s information, of course … but then it kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it. Sigh.

        • Ah, yes … i too have fallen prey to the cute niece photos. And cat memes! At least i’m lucky the former live close by enough to see in real life. The latter? I was probably due for an intervention there anyway. 😉

        • Can’t people just have an email list to email family members new pictures every month or week or whatever? Or a photo site where you can send links only to certain people like Google Photosand/or create family albums of pics that I ly certain people have access to? I don’t know why people talk as if Facebook is the only option.

          • Yes, people can do all of these things, Dan. But they don’t, because that’s how the human mind often works: Once we find a solution to a problem, it’s difficult to imagine others. I also used to maintain accounts on Flickr, Instagram and Google to share my photos, but it became too much to manage. I’ve decided to keep this blog as my only social media property, since it’s the best fit for my personal goals. Friends and family know about it and can visit as they wish … and I don’t have to worry about maintaining a bunch of online presences or alienating people with intrusive/unwanted emails. It’s such an individual thing, though; everyone has to find their own solution, and I do understand that for most people Facebook is the easiest and most convenient.

          • I admire your approach, and partly I confess because it’s similar to what I’ve done! Online now my interaction is pretty much my own blog plus around 25 connected others (yours included of course), Flickr, and email.

            So you think people carry on using FB because it’s familiar and the path of least resistance, rather than they’re not aware of the series of privacy issues and how sites like this track and prey on people to then sell to them? I don’t know, I still think there’s a lot of ignorance, people just do stuff everyone else does without questioning it.

          • Interesting paradox, isn’t it, that the less we have the more we enjoy what we DO have? This has been a theme for you with cameras, I know … but it seems it might apply to social media too.

            And absolutely, yes, I think people are carrying on with FB because it’s the path of least resistance. I’m sure you’re right too that there’s an element of, “How can it be bad if all my friends are there?” Which is exactly why I decided to write this post, even if it was a departure from my usual material. Folks need to be aware that there *is* a cost to using this free service — and any other service like it. As more aspects of our lives shift online, we need to become better-educated about the benefits and risks of the services we use.

          • I think this is the tip of a much wider reaching topic around how we’re far more lost and searching for guidance than those a generation or two before us, amplified by the insane amount of choice we have now in every aspect of our lives, from the toothpaste we use and the websites we frequent to the career we pursue and the country we live in… I need to (attempt to!) organise my thoughts. I might return with something more substantial!

          • Oh, this was plenty substantial, Dan — and very insightful too. Study after study has shown that the more choices we have the less happy we tend to be with our decisions (because it’s so easy to second-guess in hindsight). And I do think we’re more “lost” than the generation or two before us for that very reason. Telling kids “you can be anything you want to be” may actually be a disservice … and it certainly seems to be, based on the number who are dropping out of college or even society. And yet, I think humans have been wringing their hands like this since the Industrial Revolution. Change will continue to increase both exponentially and inevitably, but humans will adapt.

          • Having young kids I wonder all the time about the opportunities we give them. Is it best to let them try a range of activities, to let them see which they like (something I didn’t really have when I was a kid) or encourage them to go headlong into one thing and potentially become incredibly good at it?

          • This is indeed the dilemma, Dan. My sister is trying both approaches with her daughters — by letting each of the girls decide whether she wants to focus or be a generalist. But I’m glad I don’t have to face such decisions myself, because there’s no clear answer.

          • Well, in our case, we have eighteen nieces and nephews, it would be hard to keep track of them all via email. A photo site though – you might be onto something there!

          • 18 nieces and nephews!!!!! OK. I just stopped feeling sorry for myself over the amount of Christmas shopping I have to do. 🙂

          • We have a Santa Sleigh worth of presents every year hahaha. And for birthdays, I have email and calendar reminders, then I get a stack of cards and $10 bills and keep it in my desk. When an alarm goes off, out goes a card haha.

          • “… stack of cards and $10 bills,” eh? Sounds like quite an efficient assembly-line system you’ve got there! 😉

          • I still use good old Flickr, and the privacy settings are public, private (ie no-one but you can see it), friends, family, friends & family.

            I often post images there I want to share with some people (for example within a post on my blog) but not be publicly available to everyone so I use the private setting.

            It would be straightforward to set up a family group on there and have albums and photos viewable only to family. I’m sure there are other photos sites that can do this without the surrounding Facebook concerns Heide’s talking about.

  5. After appearing before many congressional hearings and parliamentary inquiries, Mark Zuckerberg was secretly nominated for best actor in a leading role in this year’s Oscars but the nomination was withdrawn when the Academy learned that he hadn’t received any likes. Tough gig, Mark. Sorry, I think that was a quote from The Room.

    • Haha! I will miss your witty comments on Facebook but am so glad we’re still connected here, Xpat. It’s too bad about the withdrawn nomination, though; he would have cinched it.

  6. I understand completely. I dropped Facebook a few years ago and haven’t regretted it at all. Then I dropped Twitter also because of all the anger I kept seeing. Haven’t regretted dropping Twitter either. Facebook is definitely the worst when it comes to user privacy.

    • Twitter does seem to be an exceptionally angry place, doesn’t it? I wonder if it’s because the abbreviated format encourages sniping instead of well-reasoned, balanced discussions. I quit that also years ago and now have only this blog. Fine by me; the people here are the kindest community I’ve found yet. 🙂 Thank you so much for stopping by!

  7. Great post, Heide! You raise some very good points about the price we pay to connect on Facebook. My husband got so outraged with their callous approach to user data that he quit the platform last year (he was never a big fan anyway). The problem I have is the connection it gives me to family and old friends far away. I will check out the MeWe platform – sounds like it could offer a good alternative.

    • I had your exact same reservations about losing connections with friends far away — and sadly, I probably will lose a few. But hopefully some of my other connections will actually grow stronger as they’re nurtured by the effort my friends and I invest in tending them. We’ll see!

  8. I must have been one of the very first ppl to have Fb and also one of the first to leave again. It just didn‘t agree with my ideas of keeping in contact and I wasn‘t interested to know all the details of ppl‘s lives. And then I have NEVER felt left out because I didn‘t spend any time on Fb….. not once. Don‘t forget, dear friends, there is still Email – and EVERYBODY can use it, you can send photos, invitations, what-not, the works!
    Nowadays, I can hardly understand why ANYBODY would want to stay with Facebook! It‘s a choice we make and we should think long and hard if we want to spend some or much or any of our precious time on a social media which does only damage to our own person.

    • How interesting that you were among the earliest adopters, but also among the first to leave Kiki. I wonder if this is because you favor richer, deeper friendships? (At least that has been my impression of you here.) Facebook does seem more suited to superficial contact — a “play-by-play” of people’s lives, as you say. Maybe the very fact that it’s so easy trivializes our interactions there, because they takes no effort and cost us nothing (except privacy, and the occasional fee for a flaming sword, ha ha). This struck me on my last birthday: I was touched by the few friends who took the time to call, but not so much by the many generic and impersonal “happy birthdays” on Facebook. That said, I do understand that some people thrive in such an environment, and quite literally live to collect those “likes.” To each their own, I guess.

      • You got 10 out of 10 Heide. I don‘t want pressies or ‚superficial contacts‘, I want memories…. I don‘t collect ‚likes‘, I collect loving thoughts, I can do w/o gossip and wishy-washy talk, I want in-depth conversations. But most of all I realised within about 3 weeks that this soul-less medium stole too much of my time and attention and as I tend to choose my friends carefully, I didn‘t see why I should do differently with that ‚then NEW‘ platform. But as you say: Each to their own liking….

    • Good for you too, Mark! It’s only been four days for me, but I’m surprised already by how much time I’ve gotten back — and how little I miss it. Thanks so much for stopping by!

    • Pat yourself on the head for being smarter than the rest of us lemmings, Mr. Draco, because you’re right: This is despicable.

  9. Thank you for sharing this information, Heide – it’s more than disturbing, though it’s not surprising based on the kinds of news we’ve been reading the last few years. Having people come together and share information, discuss, and decide what’s right for themselves is one truly good thing coming out of this – being aware, awake and proactive. Thanks again!

    • I’m so sorry to hear about your FB problem, Beth! I hope you’ll be able to get it figured out; it would be heartbreaking to lose your photos and videos (though hopefully you have other copies elsewhere?). My best wishes to you for good computer luck.

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