Some users of Facebook suggest that they change the site constantly simply to keep their employees busy. If you take advantage of Facebook, you understand this complaint. It certainly seems like the changes made to the social networking site are frequent and unnecessary. Perhaps they simply want to stay in the news. Every time they make a change to privacy settings or the page layouts, users complain and put up a fight, and Facebook sits at the top of the day’s news stories.
Whatever the motivation, the fact is that Facebook is at it again. Now, the change revolves around the layout. Users have been given the option for several weeks now to switch over to the new Timeline layout or stick with the traditional page settings. You no longer have that choice. Facebook is about to make the Timeline mandatory for all Facebook users. Is this just a minor annoyance and another cosmetic change that you need to get used to? Or is this a more sinister change?
What is the Timeline?
The Timeline layout on Facebook is a way of displaying your photos, status updates, likes, and comments in a scrapbook-like format. It lays out your activities year by year, hence the name Timeline. Instead of the linear stream of updates and likes, you will see a more visual aggregation of all photos, tags, comments, likes, and updates you have ever created on Facebook. If you use geo-tagging, the Timeline shows a map of everywhere you have been.
In addition to all the information about you that Facebook already has, Timeline can show other aspects about your past as well. One of the new features of Timeline is the ability to add information about your life, all the way back to your birth. Facebook suggests all kinds of things for you to share. They have headings for your work and education, home and living, travel and experiences, family and relationships, and health and wellness. They encourage you to post your life story under these headings.
What is the Motivation?
Many people have different theories about why Facebook constantly makes these changes. Here is the bottom line: making money. The more personal information Facebook has on you, the more money they can make. Facebook logs and records everything you do on their site. This allows them to target ads to you. The small advertisements you see on the side of your Facebook page should seem relevant to you for a reason. Facebook is getting to know you. Because the advertising is targeted in this way, those purchasing the ads are willing to pay more. They get more for their money when ads go directly to the people who are most likely to purchase their product or service.
Some people find this targeted advertising useful. Why see ads for cat products when you are clearly a dog person? Others find it intrusive and even creepy to know that a website has stored and sold so much information about them. The new Timeline feature refines the targeted advertising further by keeping all your Facebook activities on one page and by encouraging you to add even more personal information.
What are the Concerns?
It turns out that the Timeline change has a lot of people concerned. Not surprisingly, users of Facebook are overwhelmingly irritated by yet another layout change, but there is more to it than that. This time around, according to a poll, 50 percent of Facebook users are not merely annoyed by the Timeline, they are worried. Most of those who are worried say they are seriously considering deleting their accounts.
So, why is this change any worse than other things Facebook has done in the past? What makes Timeline so worrisome is the fact that it shares so much about you. Anything you have ever done on Facebook can show up on your Timeline. Embarrassing pictures that you forgot about because they are hidden in the hundreds of other photos, every single thing you liked, every location at which you have been tagged, all the comments and posts you made are fair game.
All of this personal information is not just valuable to Facebook and their advertisers. It is worth an awful lot to criminals and identity thieves. Even if you don’t post information like your address, phone number, and date of birth, all the other personal data can help a criminal steal from you. They can impersonate you using that information or even find out where you are and when you are not at home.
What to do?
If you use Facebook, but are turned off by these changes and privacy invasions, there are some things you can do. Of course, you could delete your account and forget about using Facebook ever again, but you don’t necessarily have to go to that extreme. Facebook is very useful and fun, which is why over 800 million people use it. You can still keep in touch with old friends and family and share helpful information. Take some precautions and keep using Facebook:
- Clean house. The first thing you should do before the Timeline layout invades your Facebook page is clean up your account. Many users never delete anything and let those embarrassing photos hide out amongst all the rest. Go through your pictures and delete the ones you don’t want people to see. If the photos belong to a friend, remove your tags from them. Clean up your friend list as well. If you have people on there that you don’t really remember or even interact with, get rid of them. If you restrict your friend list to people you actually know and trust, your risks go down.
- Hide from strangers. With a cleaned up friend list, make sure that your information will be restricted to them. To do so, go to privacy settings and click on manage past post visibility. Click on limit old posts. This will limit your content to your friend list. Even if you had posts that were public in the past or allowed friends of friends to see them, this will change that. Only your friends can see your full Timeline now.
- See what the public sees. After making changes, it’s a good idea to check your Facebook page from the perspective of a stranger. To do this, go to your profile, click on edit profile, and then view as. This will allow you to see your information as a stranger would. If you can see things that you don’t want the public to see, go back and change them. To hide individual posts and photos, click on the pencil in the corner and select hide from timeline.
- Be sensible. All the hiding and setting changes are useful, but the best defense is to be sensible about what you do online. You should never share very personal information or anything that could embarrass you later. Consider everything you post and think about potential consequences. Most of your statements and photos are likely harmless, but it always pays to be careful.
When each Facebook account will be switched over to Timeline varies, but the process has begun. You should receive a warning from Facebook seven days ahead of the switch. Get a head start and learn more about your account settings. Do a clean up and be ready for the Timeline change.