Poll reveals widespread concern over Facebook Timeline

Worried woman. Credit: Shutterstock

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.