How Facebook’s new Timeline layout will affect your privacy

Ever since the forthcoming Facebook profile changes announced earlier this week at the f8 Facebook Developer Conference, there has been a lot of talk online about how the new Timeline layout of your user profile will affect your privacy.

Essentially Facebook is taking all of the information that you have already entered into the social network, your profile, your photos, your posts, comments and other’s comments about you and presenting it in clickable chronological order. This has given some commentators cause for concern. Not I.

I’ll admit that when I first read about the changes I was a little worried, even to the point where I messaged my girlfriend to express my concern (I know, geek). So I thought to myself, “Ferguson, don’t be so negative, at least check it out first before going off the deep end.”

So I logged into Facebook and enabled the new Timeline view (it’s not publicly released yet, but here’s how you can get it in advance) and to be honest I loved what I saw. It’s pretty, it’s intuitive and it certainly says a lot more about me (it’s a profile after all) than the previous layout.

Enough of the aesthetics though, what of the security concerns? The thing that led me to write this blog was an article by Gregg Keizer which featured commentary from Sophos’ Chet Wisniewski. Chet is of the opinion that the new layout simplifies the procedure of data mining any given individual, he says “Timeline makes it a heck of a lot easier [for attackers] to collect information on people“.

He’s right too, If I had previously wanted to look at everything someone had ever done on Facebook , it would mean a aeons of clicking to load older posts. Now it’s all presented in a scrollable timeline, much more simple. So why do I disagree?

Timeline certainly makes it easier for anyone who has access to my profile to find out about my Facebook past, but my profile is set to private. Not only that I am also very selective about who I add as a friend on Facebook.

In all honesty I really don’t mind my friends data-mining me if they have nothing better to do on a rainy afternoon. I’d have to wonder why, but hey, whatever turns your crank… Incidentally, Timeline also let’s you work out who has “unfriended” you.

Of course if my profile was configured to be viewable to the general public, or if I added just anyone as a friend, then timeline would indeed add a whole new set of concerns. To be honest though, if your Facebook profile is publicly viewable or your an inveterate befriender of stranger, you have far bigger concerns already… None of you do that, do you?

There has to be something that worries me in the new Facebook though, and as my fellow Tweeter Kurt Wismer agreed, it’s the Ticker. You’ve seen the Ticker, right? It’s the new scrolling display of updates int he top right corner of your Facebook page.

Why do I worry about the Ticker? It publishes all your activities, including check-ins, in real time to all your friends, including your interactions with people and groups those friends don’t know (if that content is public). This is very much a stalker enabler. Now not only can I watch what you are doing on Facebook with people I know, I can also see when you comment, post or like something I have no connection to whatsoever, this is A Bad Thing.

For now, there’s not not you can do about this other than appeal for Facebook to reconfigure this functionality and apply the same kind of discretion any normal person applies in real-life. There is current a groundswell of people posting the following status and for now it’s the only option you have…

“Please do me a favour: please hover over my name here, wait for the box to load and then hover over the “Subscribe” link. Then uncheck the “Comments and likes” choice. I would rather my comments on friends’ posts not be republished. Thanks** Then repost if you don’t want your EVERY MOVE posted on the right for everyone to see! :) i’ll do the same for you if you want. just click “like.”

As Solutions Architect for Trend Micro, Rik Ferguson interacts with CIOs from a wide variety of blue chip enterprises, government institutions, law enforcement organisations. Recognised as an industry thought leader and analyst, Rik is regularly quoted by the press on issues surrounding Information Security, Cybercrime and technology futures. With over 15 years experience in the IT Industry with companies such as EDS, McAfee and Xerox Rik’s broad experience enables him to have a clear insight into the challenges and issues facings businesses today.