I wanted to get back on Facebook (don’t hate me)
I had been off of Facebook for many years. The constant stream of privacy violations and Facebook’s inadvertent positioning as a surveillance company really put me off. Coming to the realization that Facebook’s actual customers are advertisers and its users are the product really crystallized my decision to leave. I kept my account open, just never used it again.
Then something happened in 2018. After living in the San Francisco Bay Area for the better part of two decades, I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. So I have many friends who live a couple thousand miles away. I try to keep in touch – I talk by phone (so old-school, I know!) with many of them every so often.
One day I was talking with one of my friends who was expecting a baby. I asked him how he and his wife were doing, and when the baby was due. He said, “We had the baby! You didn’t see? We put the pictures on Facebook.” It was a face-palm moment for me. I couldn’t be upset that he didn’t call me personally – we’re close but we’re not family, and Facebook (even with all its flaws) is a very efficient way to communicate this kind of news to everyone you know. Except I wasn’t using Facebook, so I missed out.
I thought to myself: what would it take for me to use Facebook again? I’d need assurances that Facebook couldn’t track every little thing I did on Facebook. I’d need assurances that my off-Facebook activity couldn’t be tracked by Facebook, regardless of my “privacy settings”. And then there was the signal-to-noise problem. I’d want to have some ability to filter my feed myself, independent of any tools provided by Facebook (my filtering preferences just represent more personal information for them to sell).
So I created Bubble, which includes the BlockParty and ShadowBan apps, to accomplish this.
With BlockParty, all network requests to Facebook are blocked, unless you’re on the Facebook website. This includes the millions of “Like” buttons and other hidden Facebook trackers that litter the internet, are embedded in mobile apps, and so on. Even when you’re on the Facebook site, ads and behavior trackers (sent every few seconds!) are blocked. All off-site links are scrubbed of tracking information, so you can safely click on shared articles without being redirected through data brokers.
With ShadowBan, I can block individual users, or block posts by keyword, and more. ShadowBan filters the posts out for me, so Facebook never knows what I am blocking. ShadowBan also displays a “signal/noise” number to help me understand just how much of my feed is useful. It regularly hovers around 50%. This means half my feed is ads and stuff I’d rather not see. I smile every time I think about the time and stress I have saved myself by avoiding crap that I don’t want to see.
It’s not perfect. Facebook still knows about every Like and Comment that I make. They know about every link I click on Facebook that stays on Facebook – viewing friend’s pages, community pages, events and the like. But it’s such a major improvement that I now feel comfortable coming back.
And so I’m back on Facebook! My feed is clean and my personal information is (largely) protected. And I’m already reaping the benefits — just last week I found out an old high school friend had also moved to the Charlotte area, and he lives just a few miles away from me! We’re going to grab lunch and catch up after so many years apart. Thanks Facebook!
Are you ready to get back on Facebook and feel safe about it? Try Bubble!
UPDATE: since I wrote this post, my friend and I had lunch, it was great to see him and catch up! So nice to find a new old friend living nearby!