Why I Finally Deleted the Facebook Mobile App

8/07/2014 Stephen Colbert 0 Comments


Data is like the new currency.  Ever since a price tag could be added to data collection, large companies have been providing amazing services—that would have been paid services a few years ago—for "free."

It's not free, though.  Sure, you don't pay any money to Google to use Gmail, but as anyone over the age of 12 might remember, paid email service used to be the norm.  It costs money to provide the infrastructure to support email, so clearly Google and other providers of free service are making money from somewhere.  There's no such thing as a free lunch.

Anyone who has seen The Social Network may have some familiarity with Facebook's origin.  Maybe not in the most accurate sense, but at least in a conceptual sense.  The early question with Facebook was how to monetize a free service?

The way Facebook is currently monetized is fairly obvious.  You have cookies installed on your browser that track your web use and report back to Facebook, even when you're logged out.  The mobile Android app, on the other hand, does something similar, except it also has permission to view nearly everything you're doing on your device.  The iOS app isn't quite so pervasive, but it has its own web browser, so nearly all Facebook initiated activity is still tracked and monitored. [EDIT: After publishing this, I noticed I am also being forced to download a standalone iOS messaging app, so this also affects iPhones and iPads.]

You may have noticed this in some slightly creepy ways as I noticed recently.  I was on Amazon, looking at 100 watt LEDs and heat sinks (you'll find out why eventually) and when I jumped on Facebook a few hours later, there were advertisements all over my feed for the LEDs and heat sinks that I hadn't purchased yet.  Facebook just made ad money off my activity.

We are purchasing access to "free" services with our personal data.  Our demographics, our "likes," and our web traffic.  This data has been monetized by Facebook, Google, Twitter, and any other service you surrender your data to.  In the same way that goods and labor with intrinsic value were eventually translated into currency with a perceived value, data has now been given a price tag (albeit, a vague one).

If our data is being monetized, then shouldn't we give it monetary considerations?  Pieces of paper and small bits of metal (or nowadays, digital characters) have no intrinsic value.  Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, said that "all money is a matter of belief," because at the end of the day, it is only a representation of value (typically product of time and labor).

If you are going to pay for a service using the virtual currency of personal data (instead of bitcoin, dollar bills, pieces of 8, livestock, or an afternoon of hard labour), then you want to make sure you are being properly compensated.

This is why I have no problem with Google having near complete access to my data.  Google services provide phenomenal benefit to me, from communications to data storage, location services, and contextual computing.  Facebook, on the other hand, doesn't do much for me, although it demands more payment than Google when it comes to data.

Given, I use Android, so Google already gets essentially any data I have on my device, but a lot of what Google provides is a solution I need.  Facebook, meanwhile, is an invasive service that runs several background processes, hogging CPU power and wasting battery life.  I put up with this for quite a while since I do use Facebook chat (probably more often than I use the actual social service portion), but Facebook now demands way more access than the service qualifies.

Facebook has been working to split its chat service into a separate app for months, but I continued to ignore warnings up until the point that I am no longer allowed to access chat via the Facebook app and I'm required to download the standalone chat app.  I'm aware, the permissions aren't all as ridiculous as some sources may suggest, but I don't need another chat app, especially one that is making a convenient service less convenient and raising the price on data it is obtaining from me at the same time.

For an app that functions as poorly as Facebook's and has an interface that is as poorly structured as Facebook's... No.  I'm not going to download an additional chat app and share more of my personal data.  I will continue to use Facebook on desktop, but today is the day I finally removed Facebook from my phone.  I'm going to use services that are more friendly and demand a lower price from mobile users.

It's sort of ironic, because Facebook is one of the companies that led the charge on the monetization of user data.  Good job, Facebook.  You put a price on my data, and you are no longer worth the expense.

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