Facebook's "Who can look up your timeline by name" privacy tool bites the dust

Filed Under: Facebook, Featured, Privacy

Facebook searchIn December 2012, Facebook announced a slew of privacy changes, one of which - the axing of the "Who can look up my timeline by name" feature - annoyed privacy aficionados.

The feature controlled whether someone could be found by typing their name into the Facebook search bar.

The setting was limited in scope and didn't keep people from being found in other ways across the site, Facebook said at the time.

Facebook yanked the setting last year for people who weren't using it.

For the minority of users still using the setting, the plug is now being pulled.

Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Michael Richter said in a blog posting on Thursday that the remaining 'get the heck away from my timeline' people will see reminders about its imminent death in the coming weeks.

Facebook message

Richter re-emphasized what Facebook said when it first warned of the feature's demise: namely, that users are better off choosing the sharing status of individual postings:

Whether you’ve been using the setting or not, the best way to control what people can find about you on Facebook is to choose who can see the individual things you share.

For example, Richter wrote, the feature didn’t prevent people from navigating to your timeline by clicking your name in a story in News Feed, or from a mutual friend’s timeline, or by using Graph Search (for example, 'People who live in Seattle'), thus making it "even more important to control the privacy of the things you share rather than how people get to your timeline."

Oh yes, Graph Search is the super-duper find-you tool, for sure.

In fact, Facebook announced on 30 September that Graph Search can now paw through your posts and status updates - in other words, all public Facebook posts ever made since the dawn of Facebook time are now searchable.

As I said at the time, for those who haven't cleaned up their more embarrassing tracks already, the time is ripe to lunge for the Activity Log.

In light of the most recent news about the who-can-find-me-on-timeline feature's demise, some of us may need a refresher course on who can see what, as well as how to stay safe on Facebook.

Naked Security kicks it off with this list of 5 tips.

And since the Facebook safety saga tends to take on the epic scope of a TV mini series, here's another 5 tips on staying safe on Facebook, plus, just because we live in tag-happy times, here's how to check your photo-tagging settings.

Much as it did 11 months ago, the removal of this feature still seems like the wrong direction. If the original setting was limited in scope and failed to do what it purported - e.g., choose who can find you - why didn't Facebook choose to rework it so as to actually protect people's privacy and give them the right to not be found?

On the plus side, in the coming weeks, Facebook will send notices to people who share posts publicly, reminding them that the posts can be seen by anyone, including people they may not know. The notices will include reminders about how to change the audience for each post.

Hopefully, that will be a helpful nudge to groups such as, for example, single women who like men *and* who like getting drunk.

*And* who might not be aware that every little bit of that is public knowledge.

Are you on Facebook? Do you want to keep yourself informed about the latest Facebook developments? Join the Sophos Facebook page for news and tips.

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17 Responses to Facebook's "Who can look up your timeline by name" privacy tool bites the dust

  1. Lee · 725 days ago

    Is there a way to unilaterally delete all posts on your timeline? Maybe from a date back or something like that? It doesn't seem to exist unless I want to go through 6 years of posts one-by-one and delete them that way.

  2. herpderp · 725 days ago

    the best way to control your privacy is to not post embarrassing sh!t

    • Lee · 724 days ago

      More about old political shit and the like that maybe I do not want shared to everyone. I would rather not have to delete my account and create a new one.

  3. Time to start using Google+

    • meg · 724 days ago

      and have google using your face for advertisements? showing your friends every single thing you look up?

  4. Andy · 724 days ago

    what you don't want known don't post !

  5. John · 724 days ago

    So Google can use your photo's for advertisements?... :-S

  6. David Pottage · 724 days ago

    You could do what a number of my friends have done, and change your name on your facebook account to nickname, and use where you live as a sirname. So if your first name is William, and you live in Oxford, then to facebook you are Bill Oxford. That way if a future employer decides to look you up then, then they are unlikey to find you, but you can easily tell your friends in meatspace what name to search for on facebook to friend you buy.

    Of course, this is probably against facebook's TOS, but they are unlikey to find out, and considering their deceptive practicies, I would feel comfortable practicing a little deception back.

    • Guest · 723 days ago

      Google Search will find it immediately because your Facebook link doesn't change!

  7. Meee · 707 days ago

    This bugs me even though I stopped using my real last name on FB long ago. But it bugs me because the reason I used the feature was to hide from people I knew in real life that I didn't want to add me online. I have a policy against adding coworkers for example. AND it worked! At my last job, my coworkers tried and tried to find me but could not no matter how they searched. Now I may change my first name too so people can't come across me on here using that either. I already have "friended" everyone I want to friend, I don't need people I run into that happen to learn my name (work, activities with my kids, etc) to start looking me up.

  8. MST · 704 days ago

    There are people on Facebook that I've blocked (as in I did not want them to find me on Facebook or even seeing my profile and cover photos which are, unfortunately, defaulted to public). Will the changing of this timeline privacy feature now allow these blocked people to "see" me? I sure hope not.

  9. Sandwhich · 699 days ago

    I have not clicked "I understand", because whatever. Offering a security measure, then denying it because it never did what it was supposed to do anyway, it's not like Facebook needed by "understanding" anyway. Now I can't access my page, without my "understanding". I think I am finally done.

  10. Boo facebook · 697 days ago

    I also am not clicking "I understand".... because I really don't UNDERSTAND what they are trying to accomplish by doing this. It's big enough that they actually want you to say that you "understand" so you can't get mad when they screw you in the future.... Oh well, I can't use facebook on my computer anymore boohoo

    • KaS · 693 days ago

      I didn't click I understand but read for more info. Then I tabbed out to do a search and came back and now I can't read that and I didn't get to read it the first time. It just assumed once I brought it up that I agree. I never agreed to it!! Now I am looking for MORE info.

  11. KaS · 693 days ago

    Facebook just let me know they are removing the setting altogether now (Nov 15th 2013 I read it)

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.