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Opinion

I got to keep my Facebook account, and I didn’t even get a lousy T-shirt

MORRIS – Apparently Shania Twain has my phone number and never called. At least, that’s what I think I learned when I downloaded my metadata from Facebook this week.

With the #deletefacebook campaign revving into high gear, complete with a bevy of internet pitchforks and torches, I briefly thought about doing the same.

I’ve deleted my account before, although never permanently and I always came back. I have family that lives abroad and it makes it really easy to see pictures. Either way, my life generally is the same whether it’s there. It’s not really an option anymore, however. As a journalist in 2018, it is part of the tool kit and there’s no way of getting around it.

But I’ve been on it since almost the beginning, and I still remember the time I got an invitation to join thefacebook.com.

It was the end of my senior year of college and a fellow staff member on the Augustana Observer sent out an email, saying we should all join it because it would make communicating with each other easier.

We had phones and email, so why we needed Facebook, I’ll never know, and that’s become a much larger question in the years since. I forget who it was. We never became Facebook friends and so, after college, we each faded into the mist like your school acquaintances are supposed to. That might be the last time in history that ever happened.

But for more than decade I’ve had some element of my life online, and Facebook tracked all of it.

One of the things people have reported is downloading the data Facebook has on you before you delete the account. You don’t have to delete the account to get it, but people talk about it like some rite of passage.

It’s easy to do, although not instantaneous. They do have more than a decade of information on me, after all.

I kind of wish it was more enlightening. I’ve lived a very boring life online since college. Some pictures with family, old messages from planning events or get together years ago, photos of me with an old girlfriend.

A list of people who I was “Friends” with once before and no longer are – either they unfriended me or vice versa, although most of the time the name is unfamiliar anyway.

But the nostalgia isn’t what’s getting people up in arms. Facebook has been accused of selling our personal data to outside companies. Supposedly one of these companies, Cambridge Analytica, then used it to help influence the 2016 election. I thought this was old news – didn’t Barack Obama use social media to get elected twice? – but apparently it’s more widespread than people realized.

I wanted that dirt.

Who was Facebook selling my contact info to? What Illuminati-led conspiracy was I now involved in, and would they be able to tell me who really shot JFK?

No no they couldn’t, unless the conspiracy goes far deeper than I thought.

Facebook sold my contact to about 20 companies, including Pediasure, Viking River Cruises, Omaha Steaks and, oddly, Shania Twain.

I can’t recall ever expressing an interest to buy items related to these companies, whether through a search or over a tapped phone line.

This can only be described as a staggering failure of market research.

There were other companies that make a little more sense. Albertsons,’ for instance: I do buy groceries. Insurance companies, music venues I’ve never been do, things like that.

The ads topics I was included with also made more sense. They knew I was an adult, for instance, and for some reason 2010 U.S. Census was another topic. So, I guess that means I was counted.

It also included Illinois and some of my favorite books and movies, things I had clicked on over the years on Facebook. But nothing outrageous.

On the whole, however, I have to say I was more than a little disappointed. We live in age where advertising is everywhere, where market research is approaching levels of a new religion and I’d been led to believe that Facebook was it’s temple and Mark Zuckerberg the Great Bridge Builder.

Instead, I got a list that clearly was someone throwing lots of darts, some of them hit the board. More importantly, I think I’d hoped they knew something about me that I didn’t know myself, that all their algorithms triangulated something from my hobbies, to find a deeper truth, or something at least more interesting than my normal life.

Instead, I learned that I buy groceries, live in Illinois, what my favorite books are, and Shania Twain really missed out by not calling me when she had the chance.

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