Jen Goldman had begun to feel like an addict. She’d often notice her arm reaching for her phone to open Facebook, without really thinking about it.

But Wednesday, a few days after news broke that the personal information and habits of up to 50 million Facebook users had been mined by the voter-profiling firm Cambridge Analytica, Goldman finally decided she had to break from Facebook’s grip. She went online and deactivated her account.

“These privacy issues were the last straw for me; they gave me the motivation to finally break away,” said Goldman, 52, of South Portland. “I’ve noticed how many targeted ads I get, and it’s always made me uncomfortable to think they know so much about me. But this put me over the edge.”

Facebook is now facing a nationwide backlash from users who think the social media giant has too much access to their daily routines and personal habits – in some cases, what news catches their attention at breakfast and when and where that breakfast is eaten – and has allowed that information to be used for financial and political gain. The controversy has drawn attention to the fact that, despite most people’s view that they are using Facebook like they would any product, it’s we users who are Facebook’s product, to be packaged and sold.

Besides the Cambridge Analytica controversy, the company has also been a focus of the probe into Russian tampering with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Now, elected officials are calling for a congressional investigation of Facebook’s practices when it comes to compiling data on users and sharing or selling it to other groups.

And users are taking to social media to berate Facebook and try to persuade others to leave it, most notably with the #DeleteFacebook campaign on Twitter. The campaign has received support from big names in technology, including WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton and Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, who deleted both of those companies’ Facebook accounts Friday.

CAN WE JUST LIVE WITHOUT IT?

Some Mainers, like Goldman, say they no longer want to live under the specter of a social media platform examining what they do every minute of the day and then allowing that information to be used for financial or political gain. Others say they are considering dumping Facebook, but they aren’t sure it would be worth it or that it would do much good. Many people use it daily for their jobs. It’s such a valuable tool for spreading information and keeping in touch that it’s hard to imagine life without it.

“I use it for so many things, keeping up with family members, promoting my books, organizing events,” said Genevieve Morgan, 50, a Portland author and co-chairwoman of the social action group Women’s March Maine. “I don’t carry a business card because I can just tell people I’m on Facebook. It’s hard to believe we all managed before Facebook, but we did.”

Morgan said she’s strongly considering deleting her personal Facebook account, but keeping a page just for her books and author events. Without that, she’d probably have to put up posters on supermarket bulletin boards to get the word out.

Morgan said people have become accustomed to the idea that we’re all “being watched” because so much of what we do and read and like is recorded digitally every time we go online. But she has become increasingly concerned about the idea that personal information can be used by Facebook and others to make money or to divide people in a political campaign.

“The thing that really changed for me was realizing that our pictures and children’s birth dates are being monetized and weaponized by somebody,” she said. “Everything goes to the highest bidder.”

Morgan, like others interviewed for this story, said she’d “lean” toward some sort of regulation of Facebook and other social media, to make sure private personal data is being handled appropriately and that consumers are made more aware of what can happen to that data. She also thinks now would be a good time for someone to launch a social media platform for the masses to compete with Facebook, one that is “by the people, for the people.”

Charlie Gaylord, 61, of Kennebunk, has no plans to delete his Facebook account. But he will continue to use it selectively and sparsely, something he’s always done. He’s never felt comfortable with having his life’s story and all his opinions broadcast worldwide. He uses it to talk about one subject, music, which is both his business and his passion.

Gaylord has a weekly radio show, “Greetings from Area Code 207,” on WBLM in Portland, and he owns Crooked Cove, a CD and vinyl record manufacturing facility. He doesn’t post his opinions on politics, or where he’s eating lunch, or where he’s going on vacation.

“As soon as I saw Facebook, I knew it would be really good for promoting stuff, that if you wanted people to know what you were doing, this would be the thing to do,” Gaylord said.

Because he’s always tried to limit his personal presence on Facebook, Gaylord finds it “a little silly” that people are outraged to find out that their personal data can be used for profit. He said he’s read stories for years about political campaigns using analytic data from social media to target voters and about data being used to target advertising.

“To me this is sort of a nothing story; I’ve just assumed this has always been going on. If I Google something in Kansas, all of a sudden ads for things in Kansas are all over my browser,” he said.

Stephanie Strong of Portland said she feels “confident” with Facebook because she uses privacy settings and only allows her 65 friends to see posts. She said she has family all over the world, including in Australia, and so the connections that Facebook provides to her are very important.

“If it’s true that a data analysis firm used by the Trump presidential campaign surreptitiously acquired and used FB data, I’m not letting them deny me my connections to friends and family and will keep my FB account up and running, thank you very much,” Strong, 70, posted on Twitter.

MORE INVASIVE THAN WE THOUGHT

The latest controversy surrounding Facebook exploded in mid-March after The New York Times and The Observer of London reported that the political intelligence firm Cambridge Analytica had accessed the Facebook profiles of some 50 million users without their permission, making it one of the biggest data leaks in Facebook’s history.

The reports, based on information from former employees and associates of the firm, claimed the data was used to target voters during the 2016 presidential election. Steve Bannon, who was a key leader of President Trump’s campaign effort, helped launch Cambridge Analytica and was on its board from 2014 to 2016. The company paid more than $1 million for data, including Facebook user profiles, during Bannon’s tenure there, according to a report in The Washington Post. Facebook suspended Cambridge Analytica from using the platform when it learned the data firm failed to delete the user profiles it obtained improperly.

Facebook has confirmed that some user profiles obtained by Cambridge Analytica were collected using a personality test app on Facebook called “thisisyourdigitalife.” The user profiles included names, locations and information on “friends” and the content they liked. From those profiles, Cambridge Analytica ranked users’ preferences, on a scale of 1 to 10, on more than a dozen political issues, from gun rights and national security to the environment and education.

The news of a personality test app being used to collect data has focused attention on Facebook apps. How-to articles on disabling apps and still being able to use Facebook are being shared widely. It’s also a reminder that online tests and quizzes aren’t created for our amusement, but usually for an economic or marketing purpose.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was criticized for not speaking publicly about the breach right away. But last Wednesday he posted a statement on Facebook admitting to “mistakes” and vowing to take actions to prevent users’ data from being harvested by outside sources. Those actions include an investigation of apps that have had access to data in the past, and an effort to let users know how they can revoke an app’s permission to use data.

“We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t, then we don’t deserve to serve you,” Zuckerberg said in the statement.

He later did several TV interviews, where he was asked about whether Facebook’s troubles warranted some kind of government regulation of his business.

“I actually am not sure we shouldn’t be regulated. I think, in general, technology is an increasingly important trend in the world,” Zuckerberg said on CNN. “I think the question is more what is the right regulation, rather than yes or no, should we be regulated.”

PERSONAL TRACKING, FAKE NEWS

But for Goldman, of South Portland, quitting Facebook altogether instead of waiting for changes or regulations made more sense. Two of her siblings and her wife have also stopped using it.

Jen Goldman of South Portland recently gave up Facebook because of privacy issues, even though she’ll miss regularly seeing pictures of her nieces and nephews who live out of state. Staff photo by Derek Davis

Goldman, who works for the nonprofit group Portland Trails, said she has about a dozen young nieces and nephews outside of Maine and will miss seeing pictures of them regularly.

But other than that, she feels pretty good about not using Facebook anymore.

For Corissa Haury of Portland, the news about Cambridge Analytica validated her decision a month ago to delete her personal Facebook account. She still has a professional Facebook page for her writing, including fiction and poetry.

But she works as a software tester and is not comfortable with how Facebook handles personal data and how specific it can be.

“I don’t think most people understand how invasive this can be, that if you take pictures of a zoo in Philadelphia, for instance, you’ll get fed a whole series of adds based around that,” Haury said.

She said that another Facebook security issue, reports that Russians planted fake stories to influence voters in 2016, first made her think of quitting Facebook.

“It made me feel like everything I was reading (on Facebook) could be completely made up, that maybe those Trump tweets were Photoshopped,” said Haury, 29. “I just didn’t want to be exposed to that anymore.”

SOCIAL, PROFESSIONAL SACRIFICES

Haury was worried that deleting her personal Facebook account would be tough on her emotionally because much of her social interaction was with Facebook friends. She said she probably had regular personal contact with two people who weren’t Facebook friends.

But since she removed her personal profile, she feels like her personal relationships are “richer.”

“People who are truly close to me seek me out and say, ‘Let’s get together, let’s talk on the phone,’ ” Haury said.

Adrian Dowling, 38, a South Portland city councilor, is painfully aware of how powerful Facebook’s lure is. He has never been on it himself. He didn’t like that it started as a network just for college students around 2004; he hadn’t gone to college and was in his 20s at the time. And he didn’t like having to give up his privacy – more so, he thought, than on other social media.

But there have been times in his life when he wished he was on Facebook, to reconnect with family and friends who don’t regularly check their email but instead tell Dowling to send them a message on Facebook.

At the same time, when people refuse to connect with him any way other than Facebook, it makes Dowling more resistant to using it.

“More than once I’ve been told (that) if I was a good friend, I’d drop my stubborn boycott of Facebook,” he said.

 

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