Facebook is EVIL

Ok…that may be a little over the top but it got your attention. Truthfully, I’m confident that the vast majority of the folks who work at Facebook are good people but a recent exchange between my wife and Facebook gave me significant pause for thought.

On Tuesday of this week, my wife discovered that her Facebook account had been deactivated. Facebook didn’t send her an email or any sort of notification that they were deactivating her account — they just turned it off.

Now, my wife uses Facebook like the vast majority of its 500M members – to keep up with the lives/daily activities of her current and old friends as well as family members. She is not a hacker; she’s just a mom and my wife for more than 30 years.

After seeing that her account had been deactivated, she sent a request into Facebook Support certain it was some minor glitch and all would be restored and the universe would continue on as normal.

However, the next morning she looked in her inbox and to her surprise, she had received the following email:

From: info+tay1yt@support.facebook.com [mailto:info+tay1yt@support.facebook.com]

Sent: Wednesday, November 17, 2010 1:43 AM

To: XXXXXX 

Subject: Re: My Personal Profile was Disabled

 Hi,

Fake accounts are a violation of our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. Facebook requires users to provide their real first and last names. Impersonating anyone or anything is prohibited, as is maintaining multiple profiles on the site. Unfortunately, we will not be able to reactivate this account for any reason. This decision is final.

Thanks for your understanding,

The Facebook Team

My wife uses her real first and last name on Facebook. Her email account is real, it is active, and she responds to messages sent to her. She is not impersonating anyone. She doesn’t have multiple accounts. She doesn’t have a name that is associated with any celebrity. She’s just a normal person, doing normal things on Facebook. She has friends, she makes comments and she posts photos (all normal photos — dogs, kids, you know… your basic family type stuff.)

Suddenly, she is cut off from her friends/family/photos, she’s been accused of something she hasn’t done, and, apparently she has no recourse. The only communication she is sent is a sterile boilerplate email from Facebook saying that they will not “be able to reactivate this account for any reason. This decision is final.”

Holy #$%^. Is this any way for any one/person/company to treat a mom/wife/good person?

Then, just as sudden as it was deactivated, her account was mysteriously reactivated. No explanation why. No reason. No apology. Nothing.

This all got me thinking.

Facebook just launched its supposed “gmail killer” -  Facebook email accounts. What if someone were to start using a Facebook email account and suddenly it was turned off for any reason or no reason? Without recourse. Poof…gone. And, no human to interact with to rectify the problem.

Email is a “mission critical” application for me and for most people who use it. Not having access to your email account to be able to send/receive email and review old email as needed could be extremely disruptive; at the very least it would be highly annoying.

If Facebook makes a mistake with email, as they did with my wife and her regular Facebook account, and uses the same non-communicative “it’s final” approach to resolving the issue, how would I, or anyone else, feel about that? 

I realize that people are using Facebook for more and more online activities (e.g. video, chat, etc.). However, has Facebook really earned the right – our trust – to provide these services?

Yes, I know that Facebook is  “free” — sort of…if you don’t pay attention to the ads/games/etc. that all enable Facebook to make money instead of you/me paying a subscription fee.  The question I have is: how free is it, really?

I’ve decided that based upon this little incident with my wife that I’m not giving Facebook any more access to my life until it proves it can handle what it currently has – appropriately and effectively. It may be convenient to put our entire digital/online lives into Facebook but I would strongly suggest we avoid that temptation.

That’s too much power and as history has shown “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

BREAKING NEWS: Facebook just sent my wife a sterile boilerplate email apology for deactivating her account. Still no explanation. My comments stand.

  • Kimlan Do

    I am proud to say I don’t have a facebook account and I am not even tempted to create one.

  • Hasan Qureshi

    Hi Bruce, Hope and pray that all is going well.. Very good article and I must agree. FB is getting lots of negative publicity these days.. Did you hear about the girl who died and her family couldn’t get FB to close her account. What a shame!!

    Regards to family.

    Sincerely.
    Hasan-

  • http://birch.co Mark Birch

    Not much of a surprise. Facebook, like its creator, are not much interested in people other than as a means to control the social graph and information flow. People are simply an algorithm to be puzzled over and solved.

    I have moved away from Facebook as an active part of my social media usage. Instead, I use Twitter and my Tumblr blog to engage with the people I am interested in. For family and close friends, I just use email and my regular newsletter.

  • Patrick Millar

    Bruce,

    That raises an interesting question since there are three parties involved in the issue:

    1. The automated bot / malware that probably took over your wife’s account
    2. The automated bot / service app that responded to the issue at facebook and took various steps to deactivate / cleanse / activate her account
    3. Your innocent wife

    For me, it’s less a question of whether or not email is more or less mission critical than facebook (and many might argue that facebook is more critical than email – especially younger folks!). The issue is the arms race in producing intelligent bots that handle these situations well.

    The “bad” guys have some interesting trade-offs in how they use compromised accounts.
    >Do they want them to have a short life but blast out spam – and easily trip the anti-bot detection at facebook?
    >Do they want their bots to have a long life and just leak out spam in a way that mimics a real user?

    There’s probably some value calculation that can be done around that. Similarly, facebook wants its customer service bots to not falsely identify accounts as being compromised – but if they are compromised to act decisively to not annoy the rest of the users.

    And the rest of us? We’re all just caught in the crossfire.

    It’s an interesting arms race though. With a suitable framework constructed around it and a good value proposition I am sure there is money to be made / being made hand over fist in this new space …

    Hope it all works out – this just seized my interest.

    Best wishes,

    Patrick

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  • Mike

    I’ll add to your rant -

    It’s a sad story, unfortunately really more the norm for these very very large service providers. On the positive side, at least there was somewhere to send a request to, and it did eventually get resolved (even though they managed to completely alienate a customer in the process.)

    I had an issue with Hotmail a few years ago. I was using the paid premium service. I had a question about using POP3, but soon realized, there was simply no way to ask a question of anyone any Microsoft regarding Hotmail. I was able to log a request and have it send me a nice automated response with suggestions having nothing to do with my problem, but never actually got anyone anywhere to help. So I moved to Yahoo mail (and then eventually to Google to get IMAP support.)

    Of course, I get the same completely useless customer support from Comcast, who provides my Internet access. So maybe it’s just a problem with very large companies providing decent customer service.

  • Stuart Small

    Hi Bruce

    Well told and certainly sympathize with your wife’s and your frustration. Here is my viewpoint.

    We’ve just started out of what I believe is a transformational journey for the human race in the way we live, work, communicate and undertake everyday tasks in a different way.

    Facebook is a painfully, young company desperately and often naively trying to balance the needs of massive popularity and meeting the costs with a new business model which to date, has difficulty winning sustainable, big budget advertisers who pay $$$$$ to media that attracts a fraction of the attention they now command. A public ownership may make them more accountable and certainly recruit a board who can hold them to account in a more IR/PR sensitive environment.

    They use new technology/bots/etc to respond inexpensively. Their view is Google-est in “lets get it out there” we can improve it later and accept we will will piss a few people off but its better than nothing or being criticized for not dealing with cyber crime seriously.

    The good news is that we now have all have a voice and in bringing these issues to a potentially world wide audience including FB execs is now possible. Lets keep up the pressure- who knows maybe they will learn. In the meantime I’m keeping gmail.