According to the ticket stub, it was 15th December 2016 when we went to a Red Hot Chili Peppers gig in Manchester. We met up in town after work, went for some food in the Corn Exchange and then went into the Arena. Up first was the supporting act – the fun and frenetic Baby Metal. Almost as entertaining as the band themselves was looking round the audience to see who looked the most freaked out by the J-Pop outfit.
Then the main act came on. It was actually my wife who wanted to see the Chili’s, but it was a treat to see such a good gig. Anyone who can manage to sound good in the echo-filled Manchester Arena is a class act, and the light show was beautiful. So good in fact, that like everyone else we took lots of photos and videos on our phones.
Back at home later on, I opened Facebook for the usual mindless scroll through my feed. But sitting at the top of the screen was something I’d never seen before. It was a banner that said “Dorian, we’ve made a video of your evening out to share with your friends”. The link opened up a video edited together from the photos and video clips I’d taken over the evening. What?!?!?
I’m not sure if this feature rolled out to everyone or if it was something they were testing on a selection of people, but it didn’t go down well with me. They’d helped themselves to my photo library, and processed it without my consent.
Technically, I had granted Facebook access to my photos, but that permission had been abused. When anyone wants to post a photograph on Facebook, they have to grant the app access to their Photo library just to be able to select a photo. Once the app has this permission, it can access photos in the background without user interaction, which is quite a different thing. Apple should definitely consider splitting this permission into two – one for selecting a photo and another for full access to the library, even for apps running in the background. Even so, it was still Facebook that took advantage – and it shouldn’t always be on Apple to have to firewall their users from apps made by tech companies that should know better.
Then there was the question of how Facebook knew I was on a night out – how exactly did their algorithm work this out? Did it notice my location was a well-known entertainment venue? Or was it looking at the quantity of photos taken that evening? Even worse, was Facebook running my images through AI and recognising it as a concert? However they did this, it’s creepy.
It would also be interesting to know where the processing to build the video took place. If they uploaded my media to Facebook’s servers and processed it there, that’s naughty. If they made the video locally on my phone, that’s more acceptable from a privacy point of view, but then there’s the hit on battery life that I took. And if they did process it locally, how did they manage to keep the app running in the background long enough to do it, when iOS is so good at preventing this? There’s been evidence of Facebook turning on the microphone (mimicking audio recording) as a way of tricking iOS to keep their app open for longer in the background.
I have never posted on Facebook again since that evening. My first defensive step was to revoke access to my photographs and carry on using the app, but it didn’t take long to realise that I didn’t trust the app at all so it was uninstalled. Occasionally, I’ll open Facebook in a browser and check on how the friends I don’t see regularly are getting on. I clicked the like button on all the birthday message I got recently, and feel guilty that I won’t be sending any back. So far, I have resisted deleting my account.
Since I stopped posting, the justifications for not using it have only grown. It’s been abused by fringe political groups and Russian intelligence operations, and directly affected UK and US political outcomes. They’ve caused dangerous situations in countries like the Philippines, where the government uses it as a platform to incite violence against news organisations trying to report on human rights violations.
The only thing I can do to show my dissatisfaction with the way Facebook run their network is to delete my account completely, which I pledge to do in 2019.