Facebook Timeline a 'stalker's paradise': Mass exodus on the way?

Summary:Facebook's new Timeline profile could lead to a mass exodus of users, as profile owners discover exactly how much of their data is now in 'click-by-date' layout.

Facebook's new Timeline feature could very well be the nail in the coffin in an ever-increasing pressure of privacy matters to hit The Social Network.

Though your individual privacy settings have not changed on individual posts, statuses and photo uploads, almost every other documented addition to content is to resurface for every user who has a Facebook profile.

It's hard to put into words without genuinely screaming, or crying out of anger and frustration. So many people rely on Facebook to communicate with long-lost friends, keep up to date with those who are geographically a great distance away, or even to conduct business.

Facebook has changed the rules and its users once again were not consulted.

The 'timeline' element to the right: So small, but so much controversy

To rest anger to one side for a moment:

From day zero -- the day and minute we signed up to Facebook, whether it was last week or three years ago, the site has allowed us to update our lives with statuses and photos, video and other content each and every minute of the day.

Though there is the option to "view older posts" at the bottom of each person's profile page, it was limited. It only showed so much.

Gallery To see the new Facebook Timeline, soon to be rolled out to all users of the social networking site, head on this way. But prepare yourself for a shock.

But now Facebook has literally time-lined each and every status, photo, shared content, "likes" and every other interaction we have made on the site in chronological and clickable format.

It's all good and well writing this, but now my friends can click back to a specific date in the right-hand floating menu of the timeline, and see posts I wrote three years ago.

That status posted via my BlackBerry in anger, or a comment I had long forgotten about which had caused a fight amongst my friendship group. That impulsive message that was posted, long been left behind in the depths of Facebook, now re-emerging and semi-searchable by another.

Posts and uploaded content we thought we had forgotten is soon to be resurfaced; dug up from the graves of the shallow peat of social networking.

The Timeline is in effect the new Facebook 'profile'. As you would expect, it is a timeline of your status updates and content uploads on Facebook, with an added twist: It goes as far back as your birth, if you want it to, and allows you to update life changing events in retrospect.

In effect, Facebook has made 'stalking' just that bit easier.

Still difficult to explain to those who have yet to experience the major changes on the cards, soon to hit the entire social network in the coming days and weeks, the site will be a chronological string of what you were doing, when, how and even why.

Facebook is now a self-genealogy site, in effect.

But what I find most abhorrent is this change in direction the company is heading down. Facebook has changed the rules on what the site truly represents. It would be like a private dating website becoming a public web directory of lonely people, and marketing itself as such.

Facebook's company ethos, however, reflects in these changes. The social network is now more than just about keeping in touch, or the original 'face-book' of high-school photos. It is now clear that Facebook wants its 800 million strong user base to document their lives, from start to present, on the site.

The Timeline has clearly been thought about a great deal -- from a consumer, end-user point of view, but also from a change in company direction. Many forget, in fact, that while Facebook is a social network, there is a company in the shadows, lurking behind the scenes implementing new changes, adjusting existing settings and focusing on direction of where the social network should go next.

But the rise of Google+ and the demise of MySpace changed everything for Facebook. Nevertheless, with competing social networks, Facebook has had to change to keep up with the constantly evolving beat.

If people are either confused or astounded by the content they thought was once gone, only to reappear again, it will lead to 'panic moves'. The immediate reaction will be of disbelief, concern that their past has come back to haunt them, and it will result in a deactivation to block all content from appearing again.

Suffice to say, current and prospective employers are going to have an absolute field day.

While developers have been lucky -- in that they have had access to the new profile pages for the past few days -- the general public and the vast majority of users have not been so. The collective shock will be felt around the world; a silent disaster, a tsunami of privacy violations to sweep across borders.

I, however, accessed the Timeline as soon as it was available to developers to see what all the fuss was about. I subsequently spent three days running a constant stream of on-screen macros deleting my entire Wall en masse, in a bid to prevent my Timeline from regurgitating a period of embarrassing post-teenage angst.

What's worse, however, though still in 'beta' phase, is that half of the things I deleted were in fact not, and ported over to the new Timeline feature when I switched back. Whether or not this is merely a bug, it is yet to be seen. What is clear, however, is that many do not have the necessary skills to pre-empt the Timeline switchover, and will be left scrabbling to hide whatever they can from their extensive set of past posts.

But without giving existing users the option to switch between the two, to at least gauge how far their information will be used and brought back up under the new 'regime', will result in a last-ditch move of account abandonment in a bid to protect their past from resurfacing.

Just as was with the Twitter old vs. new divide, at least the company gave the option to switch between the two as they ran concurrently.

If Facebook wants to keep its users without a massive drop in active users, at least they should consider 'doing a Twitter' and allowing the two to run concurrently.

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Topics: Collaboration, Networking, Social Enterprise

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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