/ Technology

Will Facebook’s Timeline reveal too much of your past?

Facebook’s new Timeline, a reverse-chronological profile of your whole history on the social network, will soon roll-out to all users. And most aren’t happy about the presumed privacy implications.

‘Timeline’ – it’s a word that will cause many Facebook users to raise their eyebrows, but what is it?

Facebook’s new Timeline will replace your current profile with a visual calendar of everything you’ve ever done on the site, from your status updates to the photos you’ve uploaded. People will then be able to scroll through ‘your life story’, right back to your Facebook ‘birth’.

The new profile layout is currently voluntary, but ‘in the coming weeks’ it will be made compulsory for all 800 million users. Are you looking forward to your new Facebook Timeline?

Fears about Facebook’s Timeline

A survey of 4,000 Facebook users by security firm Sophos found that only 8% actually liked the new Timeline layout. And 51% were worried by its introduction. Should they have anything to be concerned about? Not necessarily.

The Guardian’s Philip Landau poses the question, ‘What if Facebook Timeline was read instead of your CV?’. The fear is that the new Timeline will make it easier for others, including any prospective employer, to scrape through your whole Facebook history (you’d be surprised by the amount of information people are willing to divulge).

However, this is only true if you haven’t stayed on top of your privacy settings. All of this information was always viewable on your profile, it was simply more difficult to dig into. Your updates won’t suddenly become publicly viewable, as Facebook explains:

‘Timeline doesn’t change any of your existing privacy settings. It will show you all of your posts and activity – from today back to when you first started using Facebook.’

That’s not to say that users’ privacy concerns are unfounded. The fact that status updates now default to the ‘public’ setting could mean that your new Timeline will be full of personal updates for the whole world to see.

To fix this for future updates, make sure you choose ‘friends’ from the click down menu under your status updates. And as for past updates, head in to your profile’s privacy settings, click on ‘Limit the Audience for Past Posts’, ‘Manage Past Post Visibility’ and then ‘Limit Old Posts’. Bingo – all past updates will only be viewable to your friends.

Spend time checking your privacy settings

I voluntarily updated my profile to Facebook’s Timeline. Why? Mainly because I prefer its more visual layout. I also feel that it gives me more control over my historical content, allowing me to delete items I’d prefer weren’t viewable anymore.

However, can Facebook users really be bothered to do this? And should they have to? What if multiple updates are unearthed that you don’t want your Facebook friends to see?

Sadly, my opinion is that if you’re on a social network then you need to spend time managing your privacy settings. Create separate groups for your Facebook friends, where your family, mates and colleagues can see differing amounts of content (you wouldn’t want your mother to see those drunken photos now would you?).

And if you’d like to see what your profile looks like to particular Facebook friends, click the gear icon at the top of your profile, select ‘View As’ and type in their name. You can also see how much content the general public can read too.

So, when Facebook switches on your Timeline, this is a perfect excuse to wade through your privacy settings. Once you’ve perfected them you shouldn’t have to touch them again.


I’ll wait and see how thislooks but for me it’s a step too far and I’d seriously considering leaving Facebook.

Ben Rose says:
31 January 2012

I’ve had it for months, take a look at mine…


Ben Rose says:
31 January 2012

I don’t see the issue with timeline at all.

1) If you don’t want anybody to know, don’t put it on the internet.

2) If you only want certain people to know, don’t give access to the others.

Timeline doesn’t invade privacy, it just exposes stupidy.

I’m inclined to disagree. My Facebook covers the past 6 years of my life – from 19 to nearly 25, and I think the content I was happy to share back then, when I was travelling on my gap year, is different to now. Yes, I can delete items I no longer want up there, and sort my privacy settings for different groups (they are already pretty tight anyway) – but I don’t see why the option of whether you have the Timeline at all is not one you can make yourself. Especially when if those figures are to be believed, only 8% like it anyway.

Ben Rose says:
31 January 2012

The point here is that obfuscation is not security. If the data is already on Facebook it’s already available to anybody with sufficient access rights. If your friends are inclined to dig it out, it’s already there for them without the timeline. If they aren’t that way inclined, timeline doesn’t pose a threat.

Timeline changes nothing, except comfort levels.

I like the new FB timeline – I set it up a few weeks ago and reviewed my security settings and previous posts at the same time. I feel I now have more control over what people see, particularly since, as Patrick suggests, I’ve created different access levels for different types of ‘friend’. I’ve also deleted the odd bit of potentially incriminating evidence…

That said, I do find myself using Facebook less and less over time. Twitter is where it’s at now.

Keep it simple. If they didn’t send you a Christmas card by post they’re not your friend. And if you got some from people you didn’t send a card to then they’re not your friends either. That probably leaves a small handful of real friends and you don’t need Facebook to keep up-to-date with them. Notwithstanding Ben Roses’s point, not everyone exercised judicious forethought when they joined Facebook and didn’t expect to be exposed so publicly a few years down the line. As for having to spend time undoing something you didn’t want just to protect your privacy that’s an inverted interpretation of the freedom of the individual.

Ben Rose says:
31 January 2012

John, the timeline isn’t public…that’s the point.

Kevin says:
16 February 2012

With the new timeline, how do you view your page as another user would see it? With the non timeline there was a “view as….” option

Samantha says:
27 February 2012

If you dont like viewing the timeline for all your friends you can download Social Fixer its free. It also allows you to revert to other previous versions of FB if you dont like change. I’ve used it for months and like it so much I did donate.

Fortunately I dumped Facebook a couple of weeks ago. Most of the data is mostly useless drivel so I have been permanently unsubscribed myself. You all should do the same especially with the latest revelation for Google to disclose as much dat about your travels on-line as they dare.