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Friday, September 23, 2011

Don't worry about Facebook Timeline... worry about your data, wherever it is

Mark Bridge writes:

I’m glad I don't work for Facebook. One minute everyone loves you, the next minute they hate you. Multiply that by the 500 million people now using Facebook every day and I’d be pretty insecure.

Introduce a new feature or change the design and there’ll be protests that use Facebook itself as a forum. Oh, the irony. Yet within milliseconds Facebook may also be struggling to cope with the unexpectedly high usage.

And then there’s the suspicion about any new services. Which brings me nicely to Facebook Timeline.

Announced yesterday, Facebook Timeline is designed to help me share my entire life online. At the moment it’s only available to developers but it’ll go public in the next few weeks. Along with that announcement, made at Facebook’s f8 developer conference, came news of new partnerships and potential applications - ‘social apps’ - that’ll work with Timeline.

Browse through a newspaper or book online and you’ll automatically share your reading material with your friends (assuming you opted in, naturally). Listen to music or watch a video and it’ll become part of your Timeline. In fact, from going for a jog to playing online games, you can automatically share large chunks of your life in your Timeline. Not just from your PC but from your mobile phone as well.

Online timelines aren’t a new idea, of course. Dipity launched its timeline service a few years ago, while Memolane launched publicly this year. But neither of these have the same scale or the same level of developer involvement as Facebook.

Cue the outcry. “Share too much online and you’ll attract unwanted real-world attention”. Quite possibly. If someone sees from your Facebook profile that you go running every Thursday morning, they could break into your house when you’re out. Then again, they could simply see you walking away from the house.

Yes, if the opting-in part goes wrong you might end up with another Facebook Beacon.  But Facebook isn’t really doing anything with data that other companies aren’t.

If you have a supermarket loyalty card, your supermarket knows what you buy and where you buy it. There’s every possibility you’ve given them permission to sell the data to someone else, too. Buying cat food?  The same brand every week?  Try our new flavour, with extra crunch. Or extra squeak. Would you like to buy our pet insurance?  You’re going on holiday soon, aren’t you?  Why not put kitty in our cattery?

The difference with Facebook is the potential amount of information that could be shared. But assuming you read the opt-in terms - and assuming there are no embarrassing security issues - you shouldn’t be especially worried. If you don’t want to share, don’t do it.

Ultimately, if you don’t like Facebook, close your account.  (It’s the new ‘not owning a television’, so I’m told).

However, I’m not ruling out the possibility of headline-grabbing privacy worries when Facebook Timeline goes live. Some people may well be shocked by the amount of information they’re sharing online - and the patterns in their history. If so, Facebook Timeline may turn out to be a valuable - and timely - lesson.

Author: The Fonecast
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