A Healthy Disease: Facebook Fatigue

Hundreds of thousands in Europe and Canada close their Facebook accounts. What will Americans do?

by Luis R. Miranda
The Real Agenda
June 14, 2011

Privacy scares, invasion of privacy and boredom prompted hundreds of thousands of Facebookers to close their accounts in Europe, Canada and it is estimatedthat thousands of Americans will follow them. Although social networking became an everyday practice, a part of people’s life, there is only so much users can get from a social network before it turns boring, annoying and unsafe.

Is the world experiencing Facebook fatigue?

Recent estimates show that so far, at least 100,000 people dropped from Facebook in Britain. In Canada some 1.5 million users decided to say goodbye to their “blue home”. Meanwhile, in the U.S. preliminary accounting reveals that 6 million people have logged off. But is this a surprise? Hardly. Privacy advocates complained about Facebook’s use of technology to gather more than the necessary information for people to become users.

According to the Mail Online, membership growth on Facebook has slowed around the world. Still, the social network is bullish about getting to the magic number of 1 billion members. Although Facebook membership continues to decrease in the developed world, in third world countries the number of people who sign up continues to increase. A reason for this is the fact that third world nations suffer from lack of access to technology such as internet, satellite and cable television, and so on. This makes it harder for people in those parts of the world to learn about social networks and consequently to use them.

According to the Mail, there is a possible “natural membership saturation” that may help Facebook and other social networks memberships to become stagnant. “In the U.S, user numbers dropped from 155.2million to 149.4 million throughout May. In Canada there was also a fall, of about 1.5million users, while in Russia and Norway numbers also fell by more than 100,000 use,” says the Mail.

When interviewed, Inside Facebook’s Eric Eldon says that once Facebook reaches half of a country’s population, the trend is for growth numbers to stop. Facebook users become bored just as any man or woman tries the next new thing, says psychologist Graham Jones.  “People get terribly excited about something new and after a while the novelty wears off. ‘Even if it is a new TV series everybody thinks it is fantastic at the beginning and things tail off.”

But how much of the decline stems on security concerns? Facebook just as Google and Apple have been caught lately using technology to gather information that many privacy advocates and users labeled as unnecessary and a violation of privacy. Facebook activated a feature that traces people in photos posted on the social network using face recognition software. The problem is, they did not warn users about it. Apple on the other hand, recorded iPhone users’ movements without warning users about it. And Google? Well, it is just one invasion of privacy after another.

Amazingly, most if not all of the data gathering occurring on Facebook Apple and Google was mandated by the United States Telecommunications Act of 1996. That means corporations are obligated to gather and record such data because the United States government demands it. Information gleaned from the Internet raises constitutional and evidentiary issues that must be considered, including privacy and the right against unreasonable searches and seizures, said Chief U.S. District Judge Gerald E. Rosen, who also is an evidence professor at Wayne State University. Evidence obtained from the Internet and social media sites also raises issues about whether the information can be authenticated, he said. To the Telecommunications Act of 1996 one needs to add the Cybersecurity Act of 2010, which greatly expanded the powers of government and its agencies to snoop around.

Facebook has continuously rejected accusations of invasion of privacy and through its spokespeople has always claimed that although they receive “significant volume of third-party data requests” all of those requests are individually and carefully analyzed for “legal sufficiency.”

But perhaps a more serious problem that Facebook alone gathering user data, is the fact that the government itself uses social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Orkut and others to influence people. As reported by Russia Today in April, government intelligence officials make their rounds in Facebook and other social networks with the specific intent to gather information. According to former intelligence analyst, Wayne Madsen, government agencies use software such as Carnivore not only to spy on what people do, but to tell people how to do it.

The trend raises privacy and evidentiary concerns in a rapidly evolving digital age and illustrates the potential law-enforcement value of social media, experts said. “The FBI and other government agencies are facing a potentially widening gap between our legal authority to intercept electronic communications pursuant to court order and our practical ability to actually intercept those communications,” FBI General Counsel Valerie Caproni testified.

Invasive technology issues is not limited to the United States. In the United Kingdom, the government pledged to spy on every e-mail, call and web click under the excuse of national security and the war on terrorism. According to Tom Burghardt, state agencies ranging from the CIA to the National Security Agency are pouring millions of dollars into data-mining firms which claim they have a handle on who you are or what you might do in the future.

In July, security journalist Noah Shachtman revealed in Wired that “the investment arms of the CIA and Google are both backing a company that monitors the web in real time–and says it uses that information to predict the future.”

Shachtman reported that the CIA’s semi-private investment company, In-Q-Tel, and Google Ventures, the search giant’s business division had partnered-up with a dodgy outfit called Recorded Future pouring, according to some estimates, $20 million dollars into the fledgling firm.

A blurb on In-Q-Tel’s web site informs us that “Recorded Future extracts time and event information from the web. The company offers users new ways to analyze the past, present, and the predicted future.”

A report concerning the current trend on Facebook fatigue published on mashable.com says that if the slowing trend continues for a couple of months, executives at Facebook may need to think about the company’s future. Could it be they have not done that yet? And if the reports about government involvement in data mining are as serious as described by Madsen, Burghardt and others -it wouldn’t be a surprise- then that fact alone may be the trigger for a massive migration of users to alternative communication technology. For example, people worried about Google keeping tabs on what they look at online, have the option to use StartPage.com, which is a search engine that does not record users’ data, although it has the benefit of providing Google search results.

If the boredom and monotony of Facebook and the rest of the social networks is not enough to make people shut down their accounts, maybe the explicit invasion of privacy carried out by the social networks on behalf of the government or through government intelligence agencies themselves will be a reason to consider disconnecting themselves from them. It is likely that the real impact of the so called “fatigue” shows its real effects once third world countries’ users -who lag behind- realize how dull and unsafe Facebook is.

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