Last week, my email address and a very old email password appeared on a list of about five million compromised accounts that was leaked onto a Russian Bitcoin forum. I hadn't used that password in ages, and thought I was safe. As it turns outs, I was wrong.
My least-often used, but largest social media account, Facebook, still used this password. Some delightful resident of Indonesia decided to log into my account with it, but luckily, the security guards over at Facebook stopped the attempt and asked me to reset my password right away, via email. They also pressured me into activating two-step verification, which I am a big fan of, but had not turned on as I log into my Facebook account so infrequently.
I felt pretty good about Facebook. For a couple days at least.
Today, I decided to log back in and torture myself with some engagement photos or cat videos, and Facebook asked me if I'd like to take a survey. I love surveys so I took Facebook up on their offer:
Well, you did protect me from being hacked by a rogue Indonesian, so, sure, I am satisfied.
On to the next one:
We don't know one another that well, Facebook. We had a thing back in high school and we were really close during prom, but we haven't talked much since then. I don't know you like that anymore; perhaps I never did.
I decided to dig a little deeper, so as not to dismiss a potentially caring and deep relationship with Facebook so quickly. I looked into which words Twitter thinks I use most often versus the words Facebook thinks I use most often.
- Twitter: pig, dolphin, discuss, written, link, juice, article, sea, putin, tbh, kiev
- Facebook: death, police, officer, ferguson, yet, once, interviews, very
Clearly, I share the stories I write for The Wire across both platforms (link, written, interviews), but there's also a big difference in the kind of stories I share on Twitter (dolphin, sea, putin, kiev) and Facebook (death, police, interviews, ferguson.) Twitter is reserved for more light-hearted stories that I want to discuss with random Internet folk, whereas Facebook is for more serious matters that I prefer to discuss with friends. Facebook is also a bit outdated — I have written about Kiev more recently than about police officers or Ferguson.
Next, I looked at the ads I get on both networks. Facebook is trying to sell me shoes, phone cases ,and dresses. I don't actively post about any of those, but they are all generic to what my demographic is: 21-29, female, in a metropolitan city. I do like all of those things, but I am not compelled to click on any of their ads. Twitter, on the other hand, has me a little more figured out. A quick scroll down my timeline shows ads for a financial portfolio building firm I was researching for a story and Fanta, which I happen to love. It also makes sense, as I often tweet about my affection for Diet Coke.
With this method, I determined that Facebook, you certainly care about the ad dollars I can produce for you, and you care a lot about figuring out who I am, but you don't really know me. You care about the version of my profile that is most profitable.
The third question:
My first reaction is to click "Neither agree nor disagree." Sure, Facebook makes me feel creeped on and weird, but it hasn't actively violated my trust. It hasn't actively or consistently done anything to show it was trustworthy, either, besides this one time it protected my account from a hacker. Oh, right. That's why I got this survey at all. Because of that one hack that made me feel pretty okay about Facebook and want to start using it again. Facebook is skewing their own results with the timing of this survey. Of course their users are more likely to feel trusting of them right after the company protected them from a hack.
I decided to reach out to Facebook to learn a bit more about this strange timing and exactly what their plans were with my results. Would they show up in an investor report, used to prove to a board far more important than little old me that their mega company was very, very trustworthy? Would they become public? Well, I learned... absolutely nothing. I have no idea where that data is doing, or who inside (or outside) Facebook would be using it.
Notably, there is also no back button or the ability to change your answers:
So once you have said (well, multiple choice selected) your piece, Facebook wouldn't like to hear an updated opinion or second thought.
When the Washington Post's Brian Fung took a similar survey last year, Facebook told him, "We are constantly working to improve our service and getting regular feedback from the people who use it is an invaluable part of the process."
"Improve our service" could certainly mean "use this information in an internal investor report," meant to soothe those most invested in the company about their ability to be trustworthy. Perhaps when the public is allowed to see what they have to say about Facebook, then I would trust Facebook.
And the next:
My Facebook account is now secure from whoever was in Indonesia and whoever else was scanning that list of five million hacked accounts, sure. I thank you for that Facebook, but I don't really think my account is secure from the prying eyes of your ad sales department.
The final question:
Haven't I already shared enough, Facebook?