There’s a popular adage in tech critic circles: If you’re not the customer, you’re the product. In the wake of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal, the saying has a truthiness to it. We don’t pay for Facebook (i.e., we’re not Facebook’s customers), yet the company makes its money selling targeted ads based on our data. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’re products, but the specifics hardly seem to matter to people. The phrase, which Will Oremus explored in 2018 for Slate, is popular because it captures our growing skepticism of big tech companies and how our user data (and its potential advertising insights) is used to prop up their value.
The backlash has arrived. According to a study from marketing research company Edison, Facebook lost about 15 million users in the U.S. alone between 2017 and early 2019. Journalists wrote pieces about how to delete your Facebook account as well as about their experiences trying to leave. On my own Facebook feed, I’ve watched friends announce their departure from the site, leaving their personal email address or asking for suggestions for Facebook alternatives.