On Monday, Toronto-based Web designer Matthew Milan is quitting Facebook, and he’s taking thousands of people with him. Fed up with the social networking site’s lax approach to privacy, Milan co-founded Quit Facebook Day, which early this week had over 15,000 people signed up. “Our data and interactions make up who we are online,” he says. “Facebook doesn’t treat online data the way you’d expect to be treated as a person.”
With about 500 million Facebook users worldwide, those deleted accounts may sound insigniﬁcant. Even so, the campaign is part of a growing backlash against the site, which—in a bid to make money by linking ads to personal data—has pushed users to make more information public. When users post comments, many don’t realize they’re not just sharing with friends. Since late last year, “the default is to everybody,” says Will Moffat, a programmer in San Francisco. “They didn’t make it clear that ‘everybody’ means every single person on the Internet.”
It’s one of a growing list of concerns. Privacy czars in Canada and abroad have complained about the site’s policies. Last week, under pressure, Facebook agreed to stop sending potentially private data to advertisers, and reports suggested even company insiders were rebelling. According to Google, the search term “delete Facebook account” doubled in Canada from April to May. (Facebook declined to be interviewed.)
Other websites are stepping in to ﬁll the void: MySpace is changing its default setting for updates to “friends only.” A new site called ReclaimPrivacy.org lets users scan their Facebook settings to reveal what they’re sharing online, and YourOpenBook.org, co-created by Moffat, is a wellspring of embarrassing status updates. As Moffat says, it’s “jaw-dropping” what people make public, often without realizing it.
This crisis has done big damage to Facebook, but will it be lasting? Now that millions of people are hooked, turning your back on the site means leaving hundreds of “friends” behind. For Milan, it’s a worthwhile trade. “If I’m not friends with them in real life,” he says, “why would I be on Facebook?”