The new Facebook Timeline began rolling out across the world last week, and this has deepened concerns about privacy issues on the world’s biggest, most popular social networking website.
Facebook users in Finland complained that Facebook was posting what they had believed to be were private messages on their Timeline, and on their public profile, according to a report in Finnish newspaper YLE Uutiset. Facebook members used other social media sites to talk about how their private messages were displayed on their Timelines, along with their public messages.
Facebook’s changeable privacy policies and evolving product may be adding to confusion users experience when each new feature is launched. In November 2010, Facebook modified the message inbox to include any real time chats a user had with another member, and dubbed the new feature the ‘social inbox’. Wall comments showed in your inbox and any comments other users made on your wall now show up on your timeline as public posts.
It is not clear what public and private content is showing up on a user’s Timeline, and this may be due to the fact that Facebook has changed its privacy policies several times. Some users report they have photos and wall posts on their Timeline, others say they have messages showing up going back to when they first joined Facebook. It is possible users were confusing wall posts with private messages when they first joined, and now think what they are seeing on their Timelines are these ‘private messages’ which are really wall posts. Either way, users are well advised to check their privacy settings periodically, especially if they post to Facebook frequently.
For users that would like to have more clarity about what is showing up on their Timeline, one easy way to do this is to click the cog button on their cover picture, from the Timeline view, and choose “view as” which then shows the user’s profile as it looks to the public, and subscribers. Doing this today I found, to my surprise, I had two public posts visible to everyone I had either forgotten about or did not realize were public, so I then clicked on the little pencil icon in the top right corner of the post, which gives the user the option to edit or remove it. Users can also modify their Timeline as it appears to their friends by viewing their Timeline, then clicking on this pencil icon on any of the pictures, status updates or other posts made, then clicking ‘hide from Timeline’ or ‘delete post’.
Regarding claims in Finland that private messages were being posted on a user’s Timeline, Facebook responded, explaining that members probably forgot what posts they had made public, what private. A Facebook spokesman said in a statement: “Our engineers have investigated these claims. It appears that these were old wall postings which users mistook for private messages.” Finnish security firm F-Secure said it has so far not seen any evidence showing that there has been any security breach of Timeline in Finland and suggested, since “Facebook’s Finnish translation is far from perfect, the whole thing could just be a misunderstanding.”