Facebook Timeline privacy concerns deepen as rollout begins

The Facebook Timeline feature is rolling out across the world but not everyone is happy about it. Do you really trust Facebook to keep your private activities off your public timeline?
Written by Eileen Brown, Contributor on

The Facebook Timeline feature is rolling out across the world, but not everybody is happy about it.

Finnish newspaper YLE Uutiset reports that Facebook appears to be publishing users private messages. Users can see private messages posted to users on their public profile and displayed on their timeline.

Facebook said the report is erroneous. A Facebook spokesperson said:

A small number of users raised concerns after what they believed to be private messages appeared on their Timeline. Our engineers investigated these reports and found that the messages were older wall posts that had always been visible on the users' profile pages. Facebook is satisfied that there has been no breach of user privacy.

Users commented on social media channels on Sunday evening that not only public messages are visible, but also apparently private messages are on display on users' timelines.

(Source: Facebook)

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly which messages are affected by the new level of privacy -- or lack of it.

Facebook added conversations using chat instant messages to inbox messages in November 2010.  Facebook called this the 'social inbox' to allow messages to be delivered to any device. Wall comments appear in your inbox and on your timeline. Wall comments from friends now appear on your timeline as public posts.

Public or Private?

For some users, messages are on display from when the users joined Facebook; while on other timelines show photos and wall posts. Facebook have changed their privacy settings several times over the last few years.

If you don't regularly visit your privacy settings, you could be sharing more than you thought you were.

The timeline is being rolled out now and should be available to all Facebook users next week. Earlier this year, concerns were raised over the ability to 'stalk' Facebook users by viewing their activity on their timeline. Facebook also announced that status messages photos would be made public by default to users with profile and status updates set to 'Everyone'.

Conversations between two people are shown as discussions. However, people who are not engaged in the discussion can still see the conversation. It is unclear which messages are displayed on the public timeline, which is available to anyone and which messages are visible only to friends.

I looked at a couple of timelines, one from an existing connection in Facebook and one from someone I am not connected to. I added my ZDNet colleague Zack Whittaker as a friend on Facebook in 2010. When I look at his profile, I can see the status updates that he posted to Facebook before we became connected on Facebook.

When I 'unfriended' Zack I could see nothing on his timeline. Zack has been hiding updates from his timeline since he became aware of the privacy issue. However, another contact who is not my friend on Facebook has a completely different timeline view. I can see photos and links, comments and status updates.

Reclaiming your privacy

If you find that this has happened, it is possible to hide posts from your own Facebook timeline. To do this, go to each post on your timeline and choose the 'Hide from timeline' feature. This is really time consuming if there are a lot of published posts on Facebook.

You can also use the 'Hide from timeline' feature on the Activity Log section on your Timeline. Changing individual posts like this is impractical, and without the assistance of a script or macros, can also take a long time.

Can you really trust Facebook to keep your private information private? Perhaps deactivating your Facebook account might be the only way that you can really feel secure about your personal information...


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