#DeleteFacebook

There was once upon a time (basically most of my 20’s) where I would share just about anything and everything to Facebook. I’m not sure I would define myself as someone that “over shares”, but I was certainly a highly active user of the platform, sharing every ridiculous photo and every stupid thought. As time went on, I not only adopted Facebook’s other services like Facebook Messenger and Instagram, but also other platforms like Snapchat, LinkedIn, Foursquare, etc and began actively sharing there as well. Over the last couple of years or so, my use gradually declined, primarily during and after leaving a digital marketing agency that I worked for which specialized in social media marketing.

My Experience in the Digital Marketing Industry

I just want to provide a little bit of context of my personal experiences being on the other side of the screen. While working at this digital agency I began understanding exactly how this platform works what sort of personal data they collect. I even sat in on a couple meetings with Facebook employees who shared in detail about how their advertising platform works, how to narrow our target demographics, best practices for content, and which elements were needed in our content to drive engagement. I helped design Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram ads (of course we wouldn’t call them “ads”) in which the clients would dump tens of thousands of dollars into promoting on the platform.

I would create detailed reports from the data generated from these posts to see which content received the most reach, impressions, and total engagements (engagement rate). I’m oversimplifying here as to not get too technical, but my goal here was to determine which creative elements performed the best (ie what type of content people are likely to click on). Simply put, I spent 4 years of my life trying to figure out how to get people to click things on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (as well as a few other niche platforms). Anyways, anyone who has used Facebook’s Ad Manager knows just how narrow you can define your target demographic – this isn’t news or some conspiracy. Suffice to say, I became jaded in this environment but I wanted to share this to demonstrate the depth of my experience.

Why Facebook Needs to Collect as Much Data as it Can About You

Facebook is incentivized to collect every piece of information it can about you so that it can sell that information to advertisers – this is ultimately the vast majority of where Facebook’s revenue comes from. A lot of this information Facebook doesn’t even have to ask. We share this information with them by happily providing our full name, age, gender, location, political stance, and religious views. On top of that, we share our music tastes, our favorite movies, our favorite actors. We even share status updates of our thoughts – all of this data to be used to compile any even more detail advertising profile about you. This collection of personal data is how it makes it’s money – meaning that Facebook is not the product, you (the user) are the product that they sell to companies – a cliche statement, but nonetheless accurate.

We know how Facebook makes it’s money. This motivates the company to get you addicted to spending as much time as possible on their platform so that they can serve you more ads and more clicks. The reasoning is that you are more likely to click on an ad when it’s more relevant to you and thus the need collect as much personal information about you as possible. Human attention is a scarce commodity which is why this business model is effective. What’s the harm in that? Facebook’s algorithms, it’s massive amount of data on you, as well as the advertisements themselves are designed to pull at the strings of your psyche (often at an unconscious level), to manipulate you and drive you to perform an specific action be it a click or purchasing a product or service.

Yes this is marketing 101, but marketing to this extent has never been possible until the advent of Facebook (and social media in general).

Facebook Watches You Even When You’re Not Using Their Services

Another important fact that most people seem to be unaware of is that Facebook not only tracks everything you’re doing when you use their platforms, but they track you even when you’re not using their services. Say you’re using Facebook on your laptop, you close the tab, and then you decide to cruise the web, reading some news, watching videos, what have you. You’re still be tracked! The embedded Facebook “Like” button you see on most websites are indeed a Facebook tracker that reports back to Facebook that you visited that page. Not only is this level of tracking occurring on their platform, but it occurs even when you’re not using their service.

Furthermore, the most popular smartphone applications also contain embedded Facebook trackers (as well as other ad trackers). The Facebook application themselves track you even when you’re not even using the apps.

Cesspool of Misinformation & Filter Bubble

The fact that Facebook is a cesspool of misinformation might be the point everyone agrees with, but to be fair Facebook isn’t entirely to blame here. As pretentious as this sounds, a lot of people lack the critical thinking to distinguish between a news article and an article that’s blatantly fake information. I am guilty of falling for misinformation as I’m certain you are – whether you’re aware of it or not. These types of misleading articles get repeatedly shared and oftentimes people will formulate their views not on the actual article. People will form an opinion about something just by reading a headline! Granted, I’ll go out on a limb here and call almost anyone out on reading just a headline and then forming an opinion. We are sliding into a post-truth era.

Furthermore, Facebook’s algorithm is designed to keep us in a filter bubble. Anyone familiar with the algorithm will know you will only see content Facebook believes you’re likely to engage with. This keeps us engaging with people that oftentimes share our opinion which further exacerbates confirmation bias.

Distraction

The average person spends 144 minutes a day on Facebook. Imagine how you could put that time to more productive and meaningful use. On top of that, the notification sound which precedes a pleasant spike in dopamine leaves us in a constant state of distraction. I immediately think of Cal Newport’s books Deep Work and Digital Minimalism – two books I highly recommend.

I’m not claiming to be a productivity guru immediately after deleting my account, but I can confidently say that rather than scrolling mindlessly I’ve consciously made the decision to read more books, start writing again (which resulted in this website), and meditating almost daily. I’ve also picked up old hobbies like tinkering with Linux.

Conclusion

Facebook’s product is not the platform – WE are the product and our DATA and ATTENTION are being sold to advertisers. It is important to ask yourself when using any free online service “how is this organization making money?”. If it’s not obvious, oftentimes you’re the product. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Companies like DuckDuckGo or Protnmail can monetize their service while also respecting their users.

If it’s not obvious at this point, my opinion is that Facebook is garbage and it’s the equivalent of giving your brain junk food. I’m not telling everyone to go out and delete their Facebook accounts… actually maybe I am, but I know most likely won’t. Additionally, I know that some people have their business heavily tied into Facebook and it’s simply not viable. I went back and forth with deactivating my account, unfollowed basically everyone, and then said fuck-it and ripped off the band-aid. Psychologically, I was worried and was experiencing fear of missing out, but after I deleted it, I felt so much better. To those wary of doing so, I’ll tell you the water is just fine. As I said, I’m not sure anyone reading this will immediately go out and delete their account, but I think it’s important for everyone to understand exactly what Facebook is and how they make their money.

Ultimately, deleting Facebook is the best thing I’ve done for my productivity, my privacy, and my mental health.

Getting Linux to Remember a Bluetooth Mouse After Reboot

I’ve had this issue that has plagued me for the past couple of years that I never truly spent more than an hour trying to solve. When using a bluetooth mouse on distros like Manjaro, LMDE, and Linux Mint, I’ve ran into this problem where whenever I reboot my machine, I would have to repair my bluetooth mouse every single time. The only time I didn’t have this issue with running Debian 10 and Windows.

I recently stumbled across a post in r/ArchLinux where someone was complaining of the exact same problem. I tried one of the recommended solutions and it surprisingly fixed my problem.

Open a terminal and launch bluetoothctl, run the commands agent on and default-agent before trust <MAC>, pair <MAC>, and connect <MAC>. The MAC address can be found by opening up your bluetooth manager and searching for the device in question. Note that I had to unpair my device from my bluetooth manager and repair it with bluetoothctl. It took a couple attempts, but was eventually successful.

After completing those steps, open up /etc/bluetooth/input.conf and add the line #UserspaceHID=true. Reboot your machine.

Violà! After rebooting my machine, my mouse automatically connects every time. I also discovered a handy new tool I can use in the terminal!

You Are Not Your Thoughts – Experiences With Meditation

If meditation and the study of free will has taught me anything, it’s that I am not my thoughts. Spending any amount of time on this, you’ll discover that consciousness precedes thoughts.

I’ve been meditating on and off semi-frequently for the last year and a half. I’ve always been curious about the nature of my own mind – the very reason why I got my Bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology. Meditation was something I had been somewhat interested in trying throughout my twenties but I never dedicated any time to doing so. Also, being the skeptic and atheist I am, there is a TON of new age woo woo nonsense surrounding the practice (and the term “spiritualism” in general) which was an initial turnoff.

I started meditating seriously when Sam Harris released his book “Waking Up: Spirituality Without Religion” and ultimately his guided meditation app “The Waking Up Course”. Currently, I’m halfway through the book, but I subscribed to the course for a year and completed all fifty of the 10 minute introductory sessions. I also participated in the daily meditation where I tried 20 minute guided meditations. Finally, I decided to give guided meditations a break and explore twenty minute silent, self-guided meditation on my own.

Throughout the end of May and the entire month of June I silently meditated 30 to 40 minutes every day for a collective total of 24 hours and 5 minutes. Throughout the last month I discovered several new insights about my own mind.

The mind is a very busy and noisy place. The most random thoughts come to the surface of consciousness, seemingly to emerge out of nowhere. Our consciousness becomes aware of what seems to be a never ending stream of thoughts – going from one thought to the next ad infinitum until we sleep (though one could also argue that it may not necessarily stop at sleep).

It’s while meditating where I realized that I (we) have no control of our thoughts – we have absolutely no control of thought appears next or what stupid song gets stuck in our head. I was originally exposed to this idea from another one of Sam Harris’ books called Free Will which I’ve written briefly about before.

One of the goals of meditation is to clear your mind of thoughts if just for a moment and really experience the moment. Anyone who has ever tried meditation knows that this is easier said than done, but focusing on the ins and outs of the breath helps. However, when I realize that I’m lost in my own thoughts, I’ll take a step back and look at the thought. These thoughts tend to have a common theme: planning for the future, reviewing the past, or social situations and relationships.

Ultimately, we’re in a state of constantly needing and wanting things. When we obtain that thing that we need or want, that feeling of achievement is short lived and we then move on to the next need or want – an endless cycle that leaves us in a perpetual state of feeling unsatisfied (or “suffering”, but I feel this word is a bit excessive for most needs and wants).

Another realization I’ve made is that we are not our thoughts and do not necessarily need to identify with them. Our thoughts simply appear in consciousness, yet we often identify ourselves as the thinker of our thoughts despite the fact we are simply the observers. I think dissociating myself with these thoughts that come packaged with endless wants and needs is an understanding that I’ve needed.

I think that I have much more to explore. I’ve yet to meditate for more than an hour other than a half a dozen sensory deprivation float sessions. I’ve also been considering a silent meditation retreat once this global pandemic cools down.

Why Use Encrypted Messaging & Email?

I’ve come to realize that it’s actually pretty difficult persuading friends and family to switch to an encrypted messaging service. From my personal experience it really boils down to two things: 1) most people don’t care about (or necessarily understand) digital privacy and verbatim will often state the “I have nothing to hide” or “you’re being monitored anyway” argument; and 2) they don’t want to go through the trouble of installing another app on their phone – oftentimes Facebook Messenger is the app that they and all their friends use and anything with a word like “encryption” sounds hard.

Why We Need Encryption

We live in an age where normal people believe the government in spying on you and giant internet companies collect every piece of data about you, and it’s crazy to believe that they’re not doing these things. Using an encrypting communications services is one way to mitigate this for anyone who still believes they have a fourth amendment right. If any company, state, or simply a bad actor intercepts your communication that is end to end encrypted all they will see is random blogs of garbage since your intended recipient is the only one with they key to decrypt it. This type of communication is absolutely vital for journalists and people under oppressive governments, but normal everyday people as well. Now my threat model isn’t that of a journalist or someone living in an oppressive country, but being in the United States, I’m personally more concerned about surveillance capitalism.

This isn’t to say there’s other ways to intercept communications on your device. For example, an adversary could install a malicious application on your device without your knowledge that records everything you do on your device – or simply stand over your shoulder and read your messages.

Facebook – The Advertising Behemoth

Facebook collects information not just about what you “like”, what you watch, who you engage with, and what you’re doing online even when you’re not using their services – they also collect data from your personal messages on Facebook Messenger. This information combined into a neat advertising profile in which Facebook sells the keys to the highest bidder, namely advertisers. This profile is essentially a score about what you’re likely to engage with (ie a click, like, comment, share, etc).

Advertising by it’s very nature is a means to manipulate you into performing an action (in this case clicking/viewing) with the ultimate goal of buying a product or even swaying you who to vote for. I should note that I’m not saying that Facebook directly shares your entire message with advertisers (at least not to my knowledge), but by scanning your conversations they’re able to further build an advertising profile about you which is then shared with advertisers. Of course we all agreed to this type of data collection when we signed up for the service, but I’m willing to bet that you (like me) didn’t read through the Terms of Service.

I’m picking on Facebook here, but other messaging services will often do the same thing.

Why not revert back to SMS?

This is pretty straight forward. First of all, wireless carriers have begun implementing encryption into SMS, though every carrier is different and I for one wouldn’t trust carriers with the keys to my personal data.

Secondly, we have become accustomed to rich messaging services where we can send higher resolution photos, videos, GIFs, stickers, read receipts, voice messages, and seeing when the other person is writing a reply, it’s a hard task to convince people to go back to the limitations of SMS. With Signal, my preferred encrypted messaging app, your account is essentially your phone number which makes it significantly easier to transition as most of my friends still have each others numbers. However you also get the added benefit of not only rich messaging but also end-to-end encryption.

Conclusion

When people (ie normies) hear the word “encryption”, then tend to lose interest and run the opposite direction because it sounds complicated. The reality is that it’s far from being complicated especially with services like Signal and Protonmail at our disposal and are completely free for anyone to use. With these services we are not the product. Signal happens to be a non-profit and has received a large donation from the co-founder of WhatsApp (which is a very interesting story and I recommend you read up on it). Protonmail has paid tiers for more storage, more customization, the use of custom domains, and more. Do yourself a favor by checking out these tools and maybe take back control of your privacy.

Donating to Security and Privacy Advocating Organizations & Projects

After recently paying off my student loans, I have been giving some thought to making regular monthly donations to various organizations. Specifically to non-profit organizations, services, and tools that advocate privacy, security, and open source.

Also, I’m privileged to have a job that has only been minimally impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. With the recent stimulus check from the US government, I decided to donate a portion of it to two organizations: the Signal Foundation and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Signal Foundation
I use the encrypted messaging service Signal everyday. Using an end-to-end encrypted messaging service that doesn’t collect my data, read my message, or serve me advertisements based on my messages/usage is a breath of fresh air in the current technological climate we’re living in. I’ve managed to convince getting my girlfriend, my family, and my group of friends to exclusively communicate on it, which I consider a huge win – it’s actually fairly difficult to convince all of your friends and family to install an app on their phone. Signal has an interesting background with the co-founders having strong moral code. Signal is, of course, free and open source software.

Electronic Frontier Foundation
I’ve been a long time supporter of the EFF so my college days. The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s core mission is to focus on digital rights and provides funds for legal defense, defends individuals and new technology from abusive legal threats, works to expose government misconduct (ex: government mass surveillance), supports new technologies which preserves personal freedoms and online civil liberties (ex: TOR), challenges potential legislation that could infringe on personal liberties and fair use (ex: net neutrality), among other things.

Some organizations I plan to donate to in the future the Free Software Foundation, the Linux Mint team, Mozilla, Privacytools.io, the TOR Project, and LibreOffice.

The End of Ownership in a Digital Age

I was an early adopter to Google’s Daydream VR product. What drew me to Daydream as a platform was how easy and cheaper it was to experience VR (albeit not nearly as high end as other VR platforms like the HTC Vive or Facebook Oculus). I spent around $100 on Daydream applications and games throughout it’s life. I was okay with it at the time because I wanted to support the platform and developers because in my mind, this platform was the most cost-effective way to bring virtual reality to the masses. Unfortunately, Google being Google, they decided to kill Daydream in 2019.

One of the last purchases I made on the platform Blade Runner Revelations about a year ago which was launched just after the Bladerunner 2049 film. It was one of the better Google Daydream VR experiences available and I’m also a fan of the original film. However, I recently picked up a used Pixel 2 XL and wanted to try out the slightly larger display only to discover that Blade Runner Revelations has been completely pulled from the Play Store! Here’s the link where the app should be. I tried numerous ways to obtain the original APK, but unfortunately I wiped my 2016 Pixel XL so transferring the the application wasn’t an option.

What I find particular odd and alarming was also the fact that the original transaction was removed from my Google Play transaction history. I am the type that practices inbox zero, so I wasn’t able to pull up my receipt because I deleted the original purchase confirmation email (note to self: don’t delete receipts). The only way I was able to pull up any proof of the original purchase was scouring my bank statement.

The story here is that the company and developer Alcon Interactive pulled the game about a year after the I made the purchase, then Google removed the transaction record from my Google Play Order History. This is a very shady business practice by not only the developer, but by Google as well.

The sad thing about this situation is that this has happened to me at least half a dozen times with other games and applications I’ve purchased from the Google Play Store throughout the years. This is one of the reasons I deleted my Google account and no longer use any of Google’s services (except under certain circumstances for work).

We live in an age where we no longer own the things we purchase. The difference between buying content now versus 20 years ago is when we purchase digital content today, we do not own anything – we obtain a license to consume the content temporarily, that is until the platform, company, or developer decides it’s no longer making them any money. The content gets pulled from the service and you and I, the customer, have to eat the cost.

This may not come as much of a surprise if you’re a user of Netflix or Spotify, but there’s other digital distribution services like Amazon, YouTube, or Steam where you “purchase” a book, movie, or a game from their platform, but consumers are seldom aware that they’re not actually purchasing property – they’re purchasing a license that don’t hold their best interests. Additionally, software vendor can delete it from your device at anytime without any warning or explanation.

At the end of the day, where does this leave us? In the situation I shared above, the developer has completely pulled the game I paid for and Google has completely erased the transaction record. Ultimately, this has strongly encouraged me to try and find a pirated version of the game – which is copyright infringement despite the fact that I already paid money to access the game. I believe creators should get paid for their work, but if it means I have pay for a license that could be revoked at anytime, I will more than likely pirate the content instead. On the other hand, this also means finding content on sketchy websites which is especially an issue when it comes to software. Installing a random APK from a sketchy website is not something I’ll do or encourage anyone else to do. At this point, I’m simply considering it a loss.

While writing this, I did some searches and found the book called ‘The End of Ownership‘ which I haven’t read yet but intend on checking out. The authors share the story similar to mine (but much more ironic) where Amazon deleted George Orwell’s 1984 from Kindles several years ago. Like most of us, these readers thought they owned their digital copies of 1984… until they didn’t.