Poll reveals widespread concern over Facebook Timeline

Filed Under: Facebook, Featured, Privacy, Social networks

Whether you like it or not, Facebook is making its new profile format - known as the Timeline - compulsory.

In the next few weeks, every Facebook account will be updated with the new-look profile, presenting a scrapbook of all of your past status updates and photographs.

Mark Zuckerberg's Timeline

Facebook hopes that you might even fill in information about your life before joining the social network.

Mark Zuckerberg's Timeline

And don't worry if you're too lazy to keep your Timeline filled with information about your activities - Facebook apps are going to do that job for you.

Spotify, for instance, defaults to filling your Timeline with details of the last song you've listened to. (As if your friends were interested..)

Other "frictionless" Facebook apps will share newspaper articles you just read online or buy movie tickets, all without you having to press the "Share" or "Like" button.

So, Facebook is encouraging users to enter even more personal details about themselves and their life experiences, and making it simpler for others to view the information.

But might this not also make it even easier for identity thieves to put together a profile about an individual, discover the name of their first pet, and so forth? That's all information which could be put to a nefarious use.

We asked over 4000 Facebook users what they thought of the new Timeline feature, and the response was overwhelming negative.

Facebook Timeline poll, conducted by Sophos

Now, we can't claim that the poll was scientific - and the kind of people who participate in our polls might be more conscious of privacy and security-related issues than the average man in the street.

Nevertheless, it does seem to me that there are some genuine reasons to pause before embracing the Facebook Timeline as an entirely positive thing.

This Twitter user's comment sums things up quite well for me:

I had the same experience as @euzie. When I voluntarily tried out the Facebook Timeline late last year, I found myself shocked by the realisation of just how much I had shared on Facebook over the past few years.

I'm somebody who was never a rabid Facebook user, and have been well aware of the various risks that come along through sharing too much online, and yet the Facebook Timeline brought home to me just how much I had shared in the way of status updates, photographs, groups I had joined and "Like"s I had made.

And it scared me. Previously Facebook had managed to keep my history of interactions with it out of my sight, but now it was there for me to see. And combined with the challenge I felt in keeping up-to-speed on Facebook's morphing privacy settings I knew it was time to go.

I ended up downloading over 48MB of photos and status updates, and permanently deleting my account.

I tell the whole story of "Why I left Facebook" on the BBC's website.

Delete Facebook account

Of course, my position is unusual. I'm quoted in the media discussing social media security, so I have a very good reason for not wanting a privacy screw-up to reflect badly on me. That was a great incentive for me to quit Facebook.

And I am not expecting Facebook Timeline to be the catalyst for many people to leave. After all, we've seen Facebook revamp its site in the past, watched its users grumble, and yet still the site grows in popularity.

In my experience, there's a sizable group of people who aren't big fans of Facebook but still stay on the site, because they feel they would miss out if they weren't there. After all, if that's where all your friends are - you don't want to be the one not knowing what's going on, do you?

But, if nothing else, use this opportunity to re-evaluate what you share online, spring clean your Facebook account and online friend relationships, and ensure that you are only sharing what you want to share, with who you want to share it with.

If you do decide to stay on Facebook, and want to get an early warning about privacy issues, the latest security threats and scams, be sure to join the Sophos Facebook page where we have a thriving community of over 160,000 people.

For more information on Facebook Timeline listen to Chester Wisniewski on Marketplace Tech Report with John Moe from American Public Media.


(31 January 2012, duration 3:59 minutes, size 1.9 MBytes)

Image credit: Worried woman photo from Shutterstock.

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58 Responses to Poll reveals widespread concern over Facebook Timeline

  1. Pam Stanton · 912 days ago

    In anticipation of the timeline launch, I deleted all my old wall posts and now purge them once every couple of weeks. I am removing most of my photos and refuse to use apps that post automatically to Facebook unless I can control the privacy. I agree with your comment that Facebook users tend to grumble yet endure, however, I believe that the timeline is going to give enough people unhappy surprises that it could be the start of a tipping point for Facebook. Facebook WILL kill itself eventually under Zuckerberg's arrogance and it's just a matter of when.

    • Melanie · 911 days ago

      Thank you for your post. I completely agree.

    • MARIE · 911 days ago

      DITTO!! I AGREE, TOO! IF THEY KEEP ON, POSSIBLY ENOUGH PEOPLE WILL SAY, "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH"...NOT EVERYONE WANTS EVERYTHING SEEN & READ...SO, WILL HAVE TO STAY ON MY TOES & WATCH EVERYTHING I "LIKE", SAY AND DO. I HAVE A FRIEND THAT HAS SWITCHED OVER & REALLY LIKES IT...SO, WE'LL SEE!

  2. Thus far, the only thing I like about the new FORCED Facebook Timeline is that it tells me I joined Facebook, June 17, 2007. #ForcedFacebookThus far, the only thing I like about the new FORCED Facebook Timeline is that it tells me I joined Facebook, June 17, 2007. #ForcedFacebook

  3. Ali Shah · 912 days ago

    Facebook rapidly becoming f**kbook....... Its terrible to see this amazing site turning into trash of all the private history of average users.

  4. Ann · 912 days ago

    I'm a very moderate FB user...is there any tutorial that tells you how to not only use the new timeline, but more importantly how to make your profile more private? I don't necessarily want to share what article I've read...or songs I've listened to...

  5. Andrew Washington · 912 days ago

    I love timeline and think its the best FB development ever but I only have family and real friends able to access it

  6. Michael · 912 days ago

    How easy is it to manage privacy on the new timeline?

    I've always kept everything completely locked down to myself by default, and have been quite explicit in what I actually share with others. It's more a way for me to keep in touch with people than a giant bulletin board of myself.

    I'm hesitant to switch over in case I can't still lock everything down as I want (if that's the case when we're pushed into it, I will likely just delete my account). Can anybody who has switched over enlighten me on the privacy settings and how much control I will actually have?

  7. Bobbetto · 912 days ago

    I love Timeline - I follow the simple rule - if you want it private don't put it on facebook - its really, really simple - don't know why theres all the cloak and dagger stuff - Its REALLY simple: Keep private stuff private!!!!

    • Mark · 912 days ago

      It's more than that - it's the AUTOMATIC integration with other sites - "And don't worry if you're too lazy to keep your Timeline filled with information about your activities - Facebook apps are going to do that job for you.

      Spotify, for instance, defaults to filling your Timeline with details of the last song you've listened to. (As if your friends were interested..)"

      That's the problem. If you're not careful - and FB hopes that you won't be - your entire life will be there, for their advertisers to see.

      Best bet - don't use FB.

      • Patrick · 909 days ago

        That was happening even before Timeline. App Permissions, does no one read them?

    • saddlepants · 912 days ago

      Exactly! I dont play games, I dont respond to apps. I keep mt privacy settings to friends only and I delete friends who continually post dangerous apps and links. FAcebook is only what YOU make it. The whole internet is public people - dont even chat about private stuff if your worried someone will see it...eventually someone will!!

  8. carol poellot · 912 days ago

    I fail to understand why Facebook would force something as revealing in such a privacy concerned world as we are in down our throats, when we CLEARLY DON'T WANT IT. Furthermore, it is crystal clear that hackers could have a field day with anyone that just doesn't get how they left themselves vulnerable. I have very few apps, and use them regularly. I have begged and pleaded with friends to please close/block any apps they don't regularly use. Guess what? The ones that need to see the info the worst are the least likely to see it and take heed. What to do? Unfortunately, start deleting those friends, for my own safety, unfortunately.

    • David · 911 days ago

      Carol, you forget... we are not the customers of Facebook, we are the product. Advertisers are the customers.

  9. D. P. · 912 days ago

    Not especially thrilled by the changes either, and share deep concerns regarding privacy issues!

  10. @beuchelt · 912 days ago

    Your position is not unique at all - FB's decision to go timeline for all will heavily affect their userbase. IMHO, this is much more profund and worrisome than Google's collaping of their privacy policy.

  11. Ricki · 912 days ago

    What's the difference? Use your privacy settings and no one will see anything you don't want them to. It's much easier to find things you (or friends) have posted in the past.

  12. Concerned Herman · 912 days ago

    Well, that is enough for me. I do NOT want others to see every darn thing I have done. Guess I have only one choice- delete ALL the things!
    I am forced to use Facebook to see what my classmates are up to, otherwise I would have deleted it a LOOOOOOOOONG time ago.
    Stupid social media.

    • Dan · 912 days ago

      If you don't want people to see the things, then you shouldn't have posted them.

  13. Lynn Quin · 912 days ago

    If you've been diligent in the past about your Privacy settings and continue to be diligent, I don't see where Timeline is a problem. Bottom line, if you really, really don't want something made Public then just don't post it at all or make certain that you're not using Apps that share your info. Read the small print and don't do mindless mouse-clicks that allow Apps to access and share your info. It's all about individual preference and individual responsibility and attention. Facebook is free. We don't pay to use it. As I see it, Facebook can make whatever changes it prefers to. Up to the individual user to decide whether to stay or go.

    • Darkmirror · 909 days ago

      I think the same way, if you don't want it to be seen then don't post it at all.

    • guest · 865 days ago

      My thoughts exactly! I actually like the Timeline.

  14. guest · 912 days ago

    Don't (get caught) being evil

  15. Mark · 912 days ago

    I've never used FB and this new "feature" will ensure that I never will.

  16. adam · 912 days ago

    i use Facebook as an online scrap book and I love the timeline, its simple really if you want to keep something private, don't put it on the internet. and set your privacy settings so no-one can see what you don't want them to see.

    • Dan · 912 days ago

      Its not so much what I on the internet, its what others put up in my name.

  17. Ralph · 912 days ago

    As a rule I don't post personal information on my facebook wall, rather I use it to bring articles like this to my friends' attention.

  18. Ken · 912 days ago

    Have always used FB with close to paranoid privacy settings and never post anything that I would not want to get out in to the public domain by accident.

    I stopped using applications a long time ago, realising they were the weakest link in the privacy chain.

    Switched to the Timeline as a beta user and have no problems with it, even after reviewing my earlier posts and activity. Also downloaded my full activity log and found nothing to be ashamed of.

    My main concern with the new arrangements is the news ticker, not the Timeline. Posts by anybody using 'global' or 'friend of friend' show up to anybody sharing the same friend even if they are not your friend. If my own friends share posts I make with weak privacy settings, anything can get out anywhere.

    Be aware of that loophole, only share with friends, befriend only people you know and keep private things private (i.e. off FB) then nobody should have anything to worry about. And stop using the bl@@dy apps (especially the annoying games) if you don't want to share the information that you are a wannabe hitman.

  19. Mark J · 912 days ago

    I think the only people who are worried / need to be worried about Timeline are those who weren't using Facebook sensibly to begin with. One advantage of Timeline as that it is an important visual reminder of how much data you have put out onto the Web. Under old Facebook profiles it was all still there albeit harder to find (including for the owner) but if anyone wanted to find it they could do so.

    Timeline now makes this easier for the owner to see and there are simple tools under privacy settings to restrict past data in one quick go.

    Now FB users can see clearly what was revealed publicly anyway much more easily I look forward to more responsible Facebook use in future.

  20. Faecbawk · 912 days ago

    My timeline will be pretty empty, since I just use Facebook as a giant Rolodex of "friends who can't use conventional email, text message, or IM as a form of communication."

  21. I think the timeline is excellent - I can go back to a point in time and see what I was posting, doing, what pictures were current. I would go back and post odds and ends right to the start of my life, but unfortunately you can't get back further than 1952. So long as you don't post massively private stuff I can't see any harm in it.

    I notice Sophos wants me to log in with my Twitter account - should I be paranoid about that??? :)

    • splink · 912 days ago

      um... yeah. You totally should. In fact, the whole "let's have a ubiquitous single signon" idea is so incredibly stupid. I LIKE using different userids/passwords for different sites. Why would I ever want to re-use one? What sort of trust model is that for a security site?

  22. Sam · 912 days ago

    I long ago came to distrust Facebook and just stopped using it a couple of years ago. It now seems to be a thoroughly dangerous place to go no matter how careful you are with your privacy settings. Fortunately I used it for watching others rather than exposing myself, but even that (watching) has become seriously risky so far as I can see. Before I finished reading this article I went and Disabled my account.

    The present valuation put on FB by the market is ludicrous ($100bn+?). There seems now to be such a lot of criticism of their security, perhaps the valuation will start to come down. How long before it touches bottom?

  23. John · 912 days ago

    I can't believe how stupid most people are about FB and privacy. The internet is public, get over it. Facebook has privacy settings. Keep them set to 'friends only' and then only post things that you want those 'friends' to see. Dont give the apps permission to use your data or make posts. Jesus, its not rocket surgery folks. Get a clue.

  24. Beth · 912 days ago

    I don't have timeline but if it is true that it goes back to the year you were born, I find that little bit of info particularly disturbing. I do not want my birth date shared thank you very much!

  25. DeleteHappy · 912 days ago

    To cut straight to the chase, forcing timeline on users violates the FTC settlement, which "...requires that the company get consumers' approval before it changes the way it shares their data..".

    Why isn't this getting more attention?

    Yesterday the FTC commissioner was in a 2 hour data privacy day webcast including the newly-minted Facebook privacy figurehead. I didn't hear anyone addressing the elephant in the room.

  26. Deb · 912 days ago

    I will either disable or delete my account whenever I'm forced to use timeline.....Looks just like the myspace format, which I absolutely hated.

  27. chcurtis · 912 days ago

    I think the folks who say "if it's private just don't post it" haven't really thought about it. And Mark Zuckerberg CERTAINLY hasn't thought about the question of privacy, what with his "let it all hang out" philosophy.

    Nude pictures or drunken parties are one thing. Certainly, don't post those. But we all live in several different worlds, and it isn't necessarily an advantage to let them intersect.
    For instance: I am a professional. I have clients. I am on a church board. I am also a member of a medieval recreational society. I play some games. And I have strong political views. I am not ashamed of any of these activities. But I do not necessarily want these worlds to forcibly overlap.

    Right now, I make a reasonable effort (using groups) to limit certain posts to certain groups. But when the 'New" Facebook came out a few months ago, grouping friends became only erratically effective, and I do not have confidence that Timeline will preserve the settings I have taken care to use.

  28. Jennifer · 912 days ago

    How do I download all my photos? I'm probably going to close the FB account. I don't know that I've overshared on FB but it really bothers me that they often change the look and don't care what the users think.

  29. Russ · 912 days ago

    Facebook dumped all my posts from 2007 (when I joined) and 2008. I gotten zip response when I've contacted them about this. What is the point of your "timeline" when Facebook deletes your older posts?

  30. colfarq · 912 days ago

    Timeline is nothing more than different visual setup than the old 'wall' ... it's just laid out differently (they've done this a couple of times when in reality nothing fundamental has changed) . Privacy itself hasn't changed, just that it appears that way. Likewise the ticker isn't suddenly relaxing security it is just publishing from the Activity log - see below (according to the security from all parties)

    What I've found is the new Activity Log which seems to have been in operation mid 2010 (comments on photos prior to this don't appear) and activation of the timeline design show up all activity even if you "deleted" this from your wall at the time. Sadly deleting any activity actually deletes the content you supplied ... so it's the back-end workings of the database which has been extended (and has been in play from mid 2010!)

    • Cb80 · 901 days ago

      And what of users who DO understand that the only difference is visual, but nevertheless preferred the old "non-flashy" way?

  31. sanderson · 912 days ago

    It's pretty amazing that anyone would want to use Timeline in exchange for what people are happy with. How many changes has FB made in the last 3 years? Too many, and this will be the last straw for many users. I think Google has a big smile on it's face and can't wait for the exodus.

    Personally, I'm using services like fbsweeper.com and a few other tools to clean up my messages and wall posts as clean as possible in anticipation of the switch. Once they pull the switch, I'll probably wind up using FB less and less as it's not what I want in the first place!

    It's a classic business mistake of successful operations to think they can do anything they want without alienating their core user base. It's been repeated many times before and it'll happen with FB too. New best selling book in 2 years: "Zuk - The rise and fall of a cyber empire".

  32. Julie · 912 days ago

    I have already "DELETED" my FAce book account. I did it last night; although it is not completely "Effective" for fourteen days [thats a cool off period].
    Will miss it.
    But I got on ok before it.

  33. Duke · 912 days ago

    Even worse than timeline is that facebook puts random old status updates from your friends in the right column. People see status updates from friends that passed away or messages to ex lovers while they're in new relationships etc. And these random status updates do not abide to the rules you set for who can read what.

  34. Mamie · 912 days ago

    If you have to clean up your FB account because there's something on your timeline that embarrasses you, DUH, maybe you shouldn't have posted it in the first place!

  35. Phil · 911 days ago

    You can youse joindiaspora.com. Great ans open source

  36. Jessica · 911 days ago

    doesn't matter if your privacy settings are set to where it was before the timeline won't show anything trust me people who had their profile private before(friends only)had it the same AFTER the timeline..only thing that IS public to view is their cover photos people shouldn't be worried about it..even did it on myself did a self test made a fake profile looked up my name and it only showed who I became friends with EVERYTHING else was private so people need to stop worrying unless you do not change your settings and everything is public or something then that is your OWN fault and people will be able to see everything.Keep it private if you don't want people to see.

  37. Glenribbeen · 910 days ago

    This is a very unwelcome development. It's all very well saying we can set our own security - few do and less know how to.
    I HAVE to use FB and Twitter - though I'd for the most part rather not. I run tourist-oriented businesses and must perforce in the times we are in use social media and all it's inherent "charms".
    I agree with some of the above - delete all that isn't pertaining to current 'status' - but I ask - rhetorically - don't send postcards - why is FB doing this?? Because 'it' likes us. Because 'ti' can sell ever more advertising (the modern equivalent of the R.C. church's prayers for the departed - one hoped to pray hard enough that THEY got into heaven and then give YOU a spiritual - leg-up.
    Perhaps it's a deliberate way of getting the more security conscious among us to delete files that otherwise cost FB to keep on file somewhere and that costs money.
    Or am I being to Machiavellian? Answers to someone else please - on a postcard .

  38. jamie · 909 days ago

    with all the privacy scams and doing all things intending to take away privacy and not care that rouge apps steal information i think face book is running a identity theft ring - they say they do in their not so helpful page but actions says the so called help page is nothing but a lie to cover up what they really do - i deleted or at least went through the delete account stuff a few months ago because of all this anti privacy and anti security crap

  39. Beth H · 909 days ago

    An in addition to the privacy concerns, how about the fact that the new design is butt-ugly and seems designed to bring on symptoms of A.D.D. ? Seriously....who can make sense of it?

    • lizzie · 891 days ago

      Beth, I agree with you 100%. It looks like facebook has decided to appeal to the middle school age group. Because those are the only one's I've spoken with who like timeline. Geez...what a complete idiot.
      Facebook WAS genius....I think in short order it will serve as an object lesson to other businesses. Too bad.

  40. Sheetal · 879 days ago

    Hi Graham,

    I am curious about your poll. I am a Master's student doing this study on the FB timeline. As part of the poll, were there more questions other than - What do you think about the FB timeline? A staggering 8% only seem to like the FB timeline. Was there any discussion/response on why they don't like it? Any information would be helpful!

    Thanks,
    Sheetal.

  41. conadatuaprima · 846 days ago

    if i get forced to use this complete fail i will delete my facebook account. thats all i have to say about it.

  42. Occulter · 764 days ago

    CEO Mark Zuckerberg said “They Trust Me. Dumb Fucks."

    That was his early comment on Facebook users. If you want an arrogant and greedy con-man to have personal information on your life and continue to profit from it, I assure you: thousands of savvy Hackers will be more than happy to add injury to insult.

    source: http://newtech.aurum3.com / http://newtech.aurum3.com/social-network/facebook-mark-zuckerberg-called-facebook-users-dumb-fucks/

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About the author

Graham Cluley runs his own award-winning computer security blog, and is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and gives computer security presentations. Send Graham an email, subscribe to his updates on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and App.net, and circle him on Google Plus for regular updates.