The ONLY thing to "regulate" in Facebook, Google & C

There are many proposals that governments should nationalize, break up or “regulate” Facebook and similar platforms. Those proposals range from useless to dangerous. With one exception.

To know why I say “useless and dangerous”, see the links at the bottom. The exception, instead, is “hidden” in this screenshot:

The ONLY thing to "regulate" in Facebook, Google & C /img/facebook-notifications-no-rss.jpg
Quick! What is MISSING here? (click for bigger version)

The problem with the Facebook notification settings shown above is also the answer to two questions: can you really “quit Facebook” without hurting yourself in the foot? If yes, how?

Quitting Facebook without losing your data? No problem. Then what?

Many explanations available online about “how to quit Facebook” describe the same, easy procedure: first, download a copy of everything you put in Facebook: contacts, pictures, posts, everything. Then, delete your Facebook account. Done. Or not?

In 90% of cases, “quitting Facebook” in that way is exactly as smart and useful as quitting a cellphone provider by moving all your contacts and files in your smartphone to another smartphone with NO radio circuits, that is without any connectivity at all: no phone calls, no SMS, no WiFi, no 2/3/4G, nothing. It’s the thing to do for the few who do want and can afford to go living atop a pillar, or in a cave, not for everybody else.

The ONLY thing to "regulate" in Facebook, Google & C /img/the-guy-who-quit-facebook.jpg
The first guy to quit Facebook, about 16 centuries ago

The only way to really “quit Facebook” that respects civil and consumer rights and does not isolate people from each other is the concrete possibility to post to Facebook and receive Facebook notifications with any software application of your choice. Without using the Facebook website or app.

This is everything but rocket science. It is Computers 101 stuff. What is missing from the picture above is a way to receive notifications via already existing, fully open standards like e.g. RSS, and post with similar standards. Standards that, unlike email or text messaging, are made to order for automatic aggregation and processing of notifications with any software.

If it were possible, via RSS and other similar standards, to receive Facebook notifications, and “post to Facebook” from outside Facebook…

you would finally have choice. You could finally break free from the continuous tracking, advertising, distractions and general wastes of time that are built into the Facebook website and app, without any need to “quit Facebook” in the stupid, self-isolating way described above. Because you would still be able to write something to a friend who only uses Facebook; or know when somebody posted to a Facebook group you need to follow, or a friend would like you to join some discussion. Meanwhile, you could communicate and publish online as much as you want, in many other, less toxic ways.

As a matter of fact, there was a Free Software application called facebook-cli, whose purpose was exactly to do all of the above, and much more. But when I asked its developer, just a few days ago, if facebook-cli can actually post updates to a one’s facebook wall or pages, the answer was:

“[NO]. Facebook has just removed [from their programming interfaces] all functionality for publishing content on your behalf (1). [Now, facebook-cli only has “read” functionality], “and very limited at that”.

This is what needs regulation

We are already, and rightly, full of laws and regulations that (in theory, at least) forbid phone carriers to refuse outgoing or incoming calls to or from their ex-customers. Forget regulating unverifiable algorithms, nationalization, transformation to cooperative and so on. The only additional, but mandatory regulation that should be issued as soon as possible about any for-profit social network (2) is this:

you MUST give and maintain at ALL times the capability for your users to read and write content WITHOUT using your official software or website. Period.

Why it makes NO SENSE to ask that Facebook & C are regulated, nationalized, broken up…


  1. see “publish_actions” permissions here)
  2. or owned by a for-profit corporation. Yes, I mean WhatsApp