The ongoing Facebook data breach scandal is making users re-evaluate how they use the site, but one Western University professor has been taking preventative privacy measures for years.
John Reed, a Faculty of Information and Media Studies professor, has been making it nearly impossible for Facebook to know where and who he is.
Reed started using Facebook in 2007, and he then downloaded all of his information and deleted the account four years ago. He decided to create a burner account this year with throwaway email addresses, a VPN and a fake name that originated from childhood.
“Whenever I go on Facebook, it says I’m in New York City, and I pay money to a service that lets me create burner email addresses that forward to my email account,” said Reed. “Every time I send an email, it generates unique gibberish email addresses … that never sends out the same email twice, making it impossible for them to triangulate who [I am].”
The problem Reed has is not with the scandal itself but with the overall lack of transparency from Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's CEO.
“I read a quote from Zuckerberg yesterday. He said that 'our job is connecting people ... that is our passion'. I wanted to say 'OK, that’s really nice, but the reason that you are connecting people is because you make money off of those connections,' ” Reed said.
He hopes that Zuckerberg will be more open and spell out the potential consequences for users who choose to share their data, instead of loading all of the information into the terms and conditions.
Nonetheless, while Reed studies social media networks for a living, he understands that youth, especially university students, use Facebook for completely different purposes than other age groups.
“I only use it to follow community-related things, so I have no friends and family on it, but just to learn 'when are the vegetables going on sale at the farmers’ market,' ” Reed said.
Despite the success of his strategy to hide from Facebook, he decided that he will delete the application forever after realizing that he was perfectly fine without it during his Facebook hiatus.
Reed also encourages students to delete the social network as a symbolic gesture to put stock market pressure on the company; however, he compares Facebook to electricity and believes that it’s too good to go away.
“My kids don’t use Facebook because they think that it is old and stupid. It’s easy for someone that is 12 to say that they hate Facebook because they did not grow up with it,” Reed said. “It’s harder for someone your age who has been using it for 10 years — that’s like cutting off your arm.”
Currently, Facebook is trying to actively regain the trust of society with the “Access Your Information Data” tool that allows users to see all of the information that Facebook has on them.
“We are the dawning of a new age where we have to educate ourselves,” Reed said. “There will be literacy and education components for children, like how they say 'don’t play with fire' or 'don't stick your finger in an electrical socket.' They’ll tell us those things about social media, and it won’t mean that we will reject it, but we'll learn how to use it better and properly.”