Five reasons Australians should quit Facebook


opinion Over the weekend, I systematically deleted all of my data from out-of-control social networking site Facebook and repetitively requested that the site deactivate, delete and stop storing my account.

And it’s my opinion that other Australians should follow my example and delete their own Facebook accounts too. In this article I’m not going to go into all the obvious global reasons why you should delete your Facebook account — privacy, security of your data and so on. Instead, I’ll look at the corporate history of the social networking site’s operations in Australia.

My aim is to get you to question: Is Facebook making any effort — at all — be a nice Australian corporate citizen and match its values to our own? Or is it completely ignoring them and considering us not worth paying attention to? So these are the five reasons why Australians should quit Facebook.

1. Taking out but not putting back in: Facebook would like to make money from Australian advertisers, who are keen to market to the site’s very strong local userbase. However, although Facebook has some 1,400 staff globally, it is only known to have one in Australia – its sales manager for the Australian region, Paul Borrud.

Other technology companies such as Google (and even Microsoft) have large Australian presences, employ staff in Australia and depend on our country’s technical capability. But not Facebook. All it contributes to Australia is taxes. We use its services. It collects money from our advertisers. That’s as far as it goes at the moment.

2. It won’t cooperate with Australian police: Just last week the Australian Federal Police’s head of its high-tech crime operations, Neil Gaughan, flew to the US to discuss concerns with other global authorities that Facebook will not provide authorities with intelligence they need for investigations. An article on the subject described Facebook’s relationship with Australian police as “hampering” their investigations.

When you consider that that Sydney girl Nona Belomesoff was allegedly recently murdered because she apparently went to meet two men she met on Facebook, not cooperating with police is a big deal. This sort of stuff is fairly basic: You obey the law.

For internet companies, it’s important to know their rights — and Australians would expect them to. You don’t just ignore police requests, and you can even go as far as Google recently did and publish how many requests from Australian law enforcement authorities you receive, and how many you don’t fulfil. But it’s important in general to have a cooperative approach — not an actively antagonistic one. Lives are at stake.

3. Censorship: Most people believe Facebook to be a pretty open forum, but in fact it’s anything but. In mid-March, for example, Facebook deleted the group on the site belonging to “Grow Up Australia”, a lobby organisation campaigning for a R18+ classification scheme to be implemented for video games in Australia.

The group, which had more than 37,000 members, was clearly a political lobby group, and it’s hard to see how any of the content would be offensive. But Facebook still deleted the group (although it later reinstated it) without any advance warning or notice. It just deleted it.

The correct action for Facebook to have taken would be to contact the administrators of the group, who had put a lot of time and effort into it, and ask for their side of the story before simply responding to what appears to have been a complaint about the group. 37,000 people might not be that much in terms of American political lobbying efforts, but in Australia it’s huge.

4. It’s a closed shop: It is almost impossible for an Australian, even an Australian journalist, to speak directly with Facebook or put questions to the company, even though it has an Australian presence. The company’s Australian chief Paul Borrud does not take questions from media, and neither will its Australian public relations agency.

To put a request for comment to Facebook, you must contact its head office in the US – and even then, it is rare that the company will respond to press enquiries. It does not provide the name of a press spokesperson on its page, or even on its press releases. This lack of openness and accountability – for a company that holds a huge amount of data on individuals – is troubling.

And it’s certainly against Australian standards. In general, and to a reasonable limit, Australians expect companies operating in Australia to be accountable and to answer reasonable questions from journalists — and almost every company and government body has no problem with doing so, especially on non-controversial issues. The fact that Facebook often won’t respond even on the smallest issues is troubling.

5. It’s not a good archive for the Australian story. Facebook is not a publicly listed company – it’s a private company. This means that almost all details of its finances are confidential and, with its lack of engagement with journalists, this means that there is almost no accountability on its actions.

And yet, at the moment it is one of the primary repositories for information about Australia’s modern history, especially when it comes to the history of individuals. When historians look back in 20 years and want to do research on an inddividual and their place in the mileiu of Australian history, they will look particularly to Facebook – who that person was friends with, what photos of them existed, what events they attended, what they liked and disliked, even their personal communications with others.

And yet, Facebook is a completely closed platform. If Facebook ever went bankrupt or had a serious technical problem, it is possible that much of that personal data would be lost or rendered inaccurate. If Australians are to start putting intensive details of their personal lives online, it needs to be in an open standard that they can control themselves and migrate to other platforms at will, rather than in a closed website run by a private company that is totally unaccountable.

Let me say one final thing: It is really hard to delete your data and account from Facebook. I encountered many problems yesterday when trying to do so.

I encountered errors when I tried to delete my photos from Facebook. I had to spend several hours trawling through all the sections of my account to find all the areas where my data was stored and working out how to ‘un-friend’ my contacts.

When I had finally managed to delete all of my data, and then went to delete my account, it became clear that my account wasn’t really being deleted — because when I logged back in, my account still existed, and Facebook was suggesting my old Facebook friends as people I should be-friend again.

Facebook also reactivated my account several times — even though I didn’t even visit the site — because I had used its online ID system, Facebook Connect, to login to other sites in the past, and the simple act of returning to those sites logged me back into Facebook and reactivated my account — even though I had deleted it.

Searching online, it appears that others have this same problem. The only way to completely get your account deleted from Facebook, it appears, is to delete all of your cookies and automatic login passwords on other sites, create new ones for some of them and then log out and log back in, and then not go anywhere near Facebook or its affiliates for 14 days.

Even then, you won’t know if the account has actually been deleted — unless you try and login, which may reset the whole process!

In summary, Facebook doesn’t invest in Australia, won’t cooperate with our law enforcement authorities, censors online Australian political organisation at a whim and without advance notice, won’t talk to journalists, and isn’t a reliable long-term place for the Australian story to be hosted. Plus, it’s almost impossible to delete your account.

Is this a company that Australia should be supporting? Not in my book.

Image credit: Nobihaya, Creative Commons


  1. Hang on a minute. I’m no fan of Facebook, in fact I utterly detest the site, but what’s the story behind them not co-operating with police? Exactly what “intelligence” did Facebook refuse to hand over? If the police went to Facebook demanding personal information be made available voluntarily without a warrant then Facebook acted entirely appropriately (and lawfully).

    As for your other criticisms… well, you could probably say the same about many companies operating in Australia.

    • According to the police, it’s an ongoing problem.

      To be honest, as I wrote here, I’m not really sure who to believe here. Part of a journalists’ role is to question police actions, and yet going on my past experience, I really find it hard to believe that Facebook could deal properly with Australian law enforcement without having a representative here. The time difference alone would make it a pain in the ass … let alone trying to apply global ideas to local law enforcement processes.

      My feeling is that with the amount of money Facebook is making, I can’t see why the company couldn’t justify basing one or two more of its 1,400 global staff in Australia.

  2. I like this approach.
    I’m disconnecting from Facebook due to a mostly emotional response to the realisation my very personal network of close friends and family is not a walled garden but a data mine. It offended me that this was for sale.
    You’ve taken this a step further – it’s not simply a commercial data mine but it’s ONLY a commercial one. It belongs to a private business who refuses to allow it to be used for any other purpose, regardless of the merit of that purpose.
    I’m not comfortable with emotional decisions. Thank you for giving me an intellectual justification for quitting.

    • No worries Roni, I think a lot of people feel the same way. Facebook to them is not a corporation or a site, it’s a place to connect with their friends and loved ones. Any suggestion that you could leave Facebook brings up the spectre of leaving those same people — even though in reality, of course you will still maintain your connection with them without Facebook.

      When you start to stack up Facebook’s actions on paper, however, you start to realise that you wouldn’t trust its actions from any other corporation or organisation. Waiting 14 days to have you delete your account? What a joke! Attempting to monetise your most intimate connections with your loved ones? Ridiculous. And yet that is what Facebook does.

      The more intellectual rigour is applied to analysing this misbehaving company, the better.

  3. My opinions on your 5 reasons…

    1. Irrelevant – I use many products where there are no local representative… its called a Global Economy.

    2. Subjective – We do not exactly know what data the Police were asking for. For all we know, the AU Police were asking for ALL personal contact and location details of ALL Australian people using Facebook.

    Also… have people heard of personal responsibility? Australian Post ALSO allows/provides a method that you make friends with other people.

    3. Irrelevant – It was the monthly automated processes. Facebook didn’t ‘know’ until the noise was loud enough and then it was quickly reinstated.

    4. Irrelevant – What big business isn’t a closed shop? Just because big business won’t answer reporter questions doesn’t make them “bad”. It does make them stupid but not truly bad/evil.

    5. Irrelevant – Why does Facebook have any responsbility for being “Australia’s Archive” ??? Its literally JUST a friend-reconnection website. An “Archive of Australia” is the Govt’s responsibilty. No one else.

    • My responses to your five opinions :)

      1. So you’re saying that it’s completely fine for Facebook to make a stack of money from Australia and not to give anything back to the community through jobs, philanthropy and so on? I beg to differ. Everytime I have seen this happen with other corporations, Australians have protested. We’re not a gold mine. We’re an eco-system. And that eco-system needs to be fed.

      Facebook has to engage with the standards of the communities it is serving.

      2. I highly doubt that the Australian Police were asking for all personal contact and location details of all Australian people using Facebook. But if they were and Facebook handed over that, we’ll never know, as unlike Google, Facebook does not disclose anything about what it does and does not answer questions from journalists. A little accountability goes a long way.

      I agree with your point about personal accountability, however.

      3. Should there be a “monthly automated process” that can censor this kind of political speech? Not in my book. Facebook should have at least asked the admins before it deleted a group of 37,000 people.

      4. In actual fact, most big businesses aren’t closed shops. I speak to almost all of the large international technology houses operating in Australia — either on or off the record — on a regular basis. Until now, Apple has been the most closed shop in existence. Now the holder of that title is Facebook. When you consider that Apple wouldn’t even tell Australians where they could buy iPhones until the day they launched, you can see why I am starting to get worried about Facebook.

      5. It’s clear that Facebook has a social and moral responsibility as well as a financial responsibility to its shareholders. It is not literally just a friend connection website. There is a wealth of private data there that historians and families and friends will one day treasure and want to keep. We need questions answered about Facebook in the long term — in the decades — not just in the short term — in the months.

  4. There was a vox pop on WSFM this morning about the issue.

    All the callers where goint to keep their accounts.

    2 person spoke of privacy in regards to privacy, and both in the stalking menance and not the real problem, FB selling the datamine to advertisers.

    For the non techies, the real issue is being occluded by the cyberbullying/stalking issue. In a way, Conroy and his ilk harping on about net nasties has been widly successfull.

    People dont realise how incidious FB is, and gleefullpy put in data for the advertises to abuse.

    • See, I wouldn’t be so bothered by the data mining if Facebook was open and honest with all of its corporate actions. I could understand the data mining, and honestly sometimes it really results in a better solution for advertisers and I like ads that I see to be highly targeted — it means I will be more likely to click on them.

      However, if this sort of behaviour comes from a company that is not open and honest at all … it becomes an issue.

  5. Seems like a pretty poorly thought out opinion piece to me.

    Point 1: I take it you don’t do business with Amazon then either? Never order anything from Play-Asia or Zavvi? Australian companies pay money to Facebook and get targeted advertising in return. Unless they are as jingoistic as you are, why would they care where Facebook staff live? I hope you drive a domestically made, tax payer subsidised car and not some foreign import that is putting good, honest Aussies out of work rah, rah, foreigners, rah…

    Point 2: While I don’t condone any deliberate delay of response to police requests (if Facebook has indeed done this), surely you can acknowledge that there is a legitimate trade-off between users privacy concerns and police requests for information? I’d imagine that it is a fine balancing act for Facebook: protecting the privacy of innocent users while helping the police with their investigations and some requests are difficult for Facebook to deal with quickly. Having all the citizenry fitted with tracking devices would also make life easier for police, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea. What is best for police isn’t always what is best for society.

    Point 3: As you note, Facebook did reinstate the group. They may have erred, but they responded quickly. That is good, responsive business practice. If you expect perfection then I’d say you would find any alternative to Facebook equally disappointing.

    Point 4: So users should stop using Facebook because Facebook doesn’t talk to journalists enough? While you personally may feel your Facebook experience is diminished because Facebook doesn’t talk to journalists, I seriously doubt that the satisfaction of the average user with Facebook is in any way contingent on how often Facebook talks to the press. This point should have read: Facebook won’t talk to me, therefore I don’t like Facebook, therefore you shouldn’t like Facebook.

    Point 5: The worst of the lot. Top of the article: “I systematically deleted all of my data from out-of-control social networking site Facebook and repetitively requested that the site deactivate, delete and stop storing my account.”

    Oh but hang on, Facebook should store all information so that when “historians look back in 20 years and want to do research on an inddividual and their place in the mileiu of Australian history, they will look particularly to Facebook – who that person was friends with, what photos of them existed, what events they attended, what they liked and disliked, even their personal communications with others.”

    Please explain how these two statements aren’t in complete conflict?

    • I’m happy to respond to your points one by one :)

      1. Like many Australians, I do support ‘Australian-made’ where I can, and Amazon is a good point. Borders (which does invest in Australia) recently announced that it would reach price parity with Amazon in Australia, and that it was a ridiculous situation where people could buy books from overseas retailers like Amazon for cheaper than they could buy them from an Australian retailer. So, I am now going to support Borders and help keep people employed in bookstores.

      So yes, I care. And I will buy Australian wherever possible.

      2. Of course there is a legitimate trade-off between users’ privacy concerns and police requests for information … but if the police have a warrant and there has been murder done, surely this means that Facebook should cooperate? It’s not as if Facebook is the Swiss Bank of Security. It’s a consumer-level service.

      Of course there are privacy concerns, but what I am pointing out is actually the other way around. We don’t know at the moment whether Facebook is or isn’t cooperating with the Australian police or on what matters, because the company won’t talk about it or anything else at all. More disclosure please.

      3. Sure, Facebook fixed their error … but in a chillingly silent way that makes it seem as if they have no concern for the fact that this was political speech. It’s disturbing that they deleted the R18+ group without even contacting the admins. This is all I’m asking for. CONTACT the admins before taking unilateral action. Surely we can agree on that much?

      4. I don’t feel my Facebook experience is diminished because Facebook doesn’t talk to journalists, I feel our ability to hold Facebook to account in any meaningful way in Australia is diminished because Facebook doesn’t talk to journalists. In my experience, companies that don’t talk to journalists normally have that policy because they have a lot to hide … otherwise, why don’t they talk to journalists?

      5. Communities need online places to come together and contribute public data to help grow that community. That public data then becomes history. It’s the commons. Facebook is currently becoming a centralised repository for all sorts of public data that we will have no control over if it decides to move in a certain direction. I don’t want all that valuable history of the Australian community to be lost. We need to store it in a much more open standard.

      • Renai, one reason why you cannot permanently delete your profile is that Facebook holds it in case it is later required by police. Otherwise miscreants could erase evidence by just deleting their profiles.

        In any case, Facebook has no inherent monopoly, people aren’t locked into using it. You are welcome to start up an Australian based, open source alternative in competition. If Facebook is as bad as you suggest then I’m sure customers will come running.

        • “Renai, one reason why you cannot permanently delete your profile is that Facebook holds it in case it is later required by police. Otherwise miscreants could erase evidence by just deleting their profiles.”

          Um … and where did you get this information?

          “In any case, Facebook has no inherent monopoly, people aren’t locked into using it. You are welcome to start up an Australian based, open source alternative in competition. If Facebook is as bad as you suggest then I’m sure customers will come running.”

          There already is one, and it’s getting a lot of traction:

          • Nice try Renai. Only diaspora if it ever flies would fail on almost all of your five criteria too.

            They don’t have employees in Australia and never will.

            Information is hosted on user’s servers so the diaspora developers won’t be able to assist police at all.

            Censorship; agree, no censorship at all under their model. That means at all, even distasteful pages.

            Journalists? Well yes I am sure they will respond but it will be about as interesting as talking to the Mozilla staff once diaspora gets running. And they will be in the US and unaccountable for users actions.

            An archival record? No, all the information will be stored on private servers all over the shop.

            I repeat, there may be legitimate reasons not to use Facebook, but your attempt to invent new ones is a fail.

  6. I should add – there may well be legitimate reasons to quit Facebook. It’s just that none of these particular reasons are very compelling IMO.

  7. Ahh, the sky is falling in! Run for the hills! What a load of hot air.

    Facebook may be today’s trendy bogey-man topic, and – quite rightly – they have made efforts to police fan pages, remove spam and tighten up privacy etc. But it’s ultimately just a free _networking_ service and anything you consider to be really private is your responsibility to keep private wherever you post it online. It’s not a bank, or your super-fund manager. You don’t even pay to access it or use their storage space.

    As for the advertisers, well it’s their choice to pay for advertising and with a user base of this size, why wouldn’t you if you can get a return on the investment?

    Nonsense non ‘story’

    • If you think it’s a nonsense non-story, I encourage you to attempt to delete your Facebook account and see how far you get before you realise your pivacy and right to choose is being violated, Paul :)

  8. I don’t have a real facebook account so am not too worried. After reading their terms of service (even 2 years ago), it funked me out compared to the other providers (social and non social) out there. Photos are the biggest concern to me, once you post em on facebook, you can’t unpost them. Well at least in the original Terms Of Service, they can copy, keep and reuse them for eternity! Flickr which understands personal information and copyright a lot better does not own the photo and cannot copy it at a whim, hell it even educates people on licensing…. nearly everything I photograph I put into Creative Commons, I’m that kind of guy, but I wouldn’t use flickr if it didn’t have the option. IMHO everyone should use a fake account on such networks of ill repute.
    —- The Book of Faces, once you’re in it, you can’t erase it.

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