Last Saturday, a quarter million people woke up to find themselves looking for love. Some of them were single, others in relationships. Some were Argentinian, some were Dutch, and a few liked Kings of Leon. A sizable chunk were smug and many more easy-going. But all of them were united in having no clue what was going on.
Face-to-Facebook is a project by Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico. The two artists stole one million Facebook profiles, filtered them through face-recognition software, selected their 250,000 favorites, grouped them by facial expression (smug, climber, funny, easy-going etc.) and uploaded them to a custom-made dating website, Lovely Faces.
Facebook is too crowded to be a home, claim Cirio and Ludovico, and too familiar to be a street. It's an "eternal, illusory party." And they decided to crash it.
Face-to-Facebook, like ICanStalkU.com, shows users the kind of information they have inadvertently seeped into the public sphere, and the ways a third party could nefariously or hilariously make use of it.
Within hours, many of these unsuspecting love-seekers sent Cirio and Ludovico enraged messages. Facebook sent a message too - a cease-and-desist letter - because the artists (activists, pirates, assholes) had raided their data.
Mark Zuckerberg knows exactly how wrong this is, having pillaged Harvard's system back in the day to create his Facebook prototype, FaceMash.
Facebook's privacy controversy last year piqued the collective consciousness about online security. On Facebook and many other sites, we re-embody ourselves through data and surrender our data bodies to the powers that be.
A lot of people find this terrifying and a lot of people don't. A lot of people care, but aren't sure why and a lot of people don't care and aren't sure why. I, for one, while not so perturbed, also know that future me is often disappointed by present me's decision-making. I am therefore withholding judgment.
But Google hasn't.
Clicking to import your Gmail contacts to Facebook, you will see a "Trap my contacts now" warning page, asking if you're "super sure." Google then invites you to register a complaint about "data protectionism."
Anti-Facebook sentiment gained momentum in 2009, when tens of thousands of people left the website all together. As Paolo Virno said, "nothing is less passive than the act of fleeing," and thousands of users have begun voting with their feet. Or rather, their index fingers.
Seppukoo was founded a couple years ago to assist you in your virtual suicide - simply log in and your Facebook page is ritually immolated post by post. "Go Seppukoo!" the homepage urged. "Have a really cool radical chic experience."
Seppukoo employed the same viral strategy as Facebook itself, in order to transform an individual act of defection into a collective exodus. Seppukoo, like Face-to-Facebook, received a cease-and-desist letter. Its crime: Users willingly gave the website their data, which is Facebook's property. Soon after Seppukoo's URL was blocked from Facebook, Seppukoo itself went to the grave.
Four young programmers took a more uplifting approach to the Facebook dilemma last year. Their vision was of a truly peer-to-peer social network, without info bounced through a "faceless hub," and where privacy and openness could cheerfully coexist. They named it Diaspora.
It began as an idea proposed on Kickstarter, the micro-credit website that invites individuals to pledge small money to sponsor projects, in exchange for token gifts. Diaspora hoped to raise $10,000. After that was met, people continued to donate. Diaspora managed to raise close to twenty times their goal, from 6,200 different contributors. A Kickstarter record.
As decentralized, open-source software, Diaspora lets people control their own data, as well as the very architecture of the platform. Although still in its alpha phase, Diaspora has made such radical moves as making its Gender a text field, as opposed to a binary drop-down menu.
But the reality is, most people will not shift their accounts to Diaspora or commit Seppukoo. Last year saw the first Quit Facebook Day, but even that hardly tickled the beast.
The Internet landscape people encounter is increasingly signposted by brands as monolithic and inescapable as the billboards on a US interstate... Google, Amazon, Ebay, Facebook. Only a small slice of web-surfers will ever plunge into the Internet's countercultural depths.
This means a real revolution may have to come from inside the house.
Facebook Resistance is plotting the insurrection. The plan is to scramble the website's homogenized layout, which tidied the messiness and creativity of a Geocities or a Myspace into a 2.0 repository of economically valuable data.
"It's like if everyone's living room had the same Ikea furniture," said Tobias Leingruber, the artist spearheading Facebook Resistance.
Leingruber has already designed several artistic, prankish and borderline illegal browser extensions, including the China Channel, which lets you experience the Internet as if you were in China, and Pirates of the Amazon, which let Amazon browsers easily download for free the products they were thinking of buying.
Hacktivists can already use plug-ins to manipulate Facebook's code. But the reworked designs exist only locally on your own computer, which isn't so much fun. If someone else downloads the plug-in, however, every act of vandalism becomes visible to them too.
This has already happened with the Dislike Button (not the fake, spammy one, but the actual one). Already one million people, Leingruber claims, have downloaded the plug-in and "disliking" is part of their Facebook reality.
Other viral acts of vandalism in the works include custom wallpapers, a gender spectrum slider, the ability to list multiple romantic partners and to manically graffiti your friend's wall.
Some of the ideas are political, while others are as pointed as a kid with a crayon. But the idea is to restore fundamental principles that Facebook, and other sites like it, threaten: The importance of being anyone and not just someone, and of taking control of your online identity, before someone comes along and tags you as "smug."