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Facebook’s New Timeline & Perceptions of Privacy
Everyone’s Facebook profile will disappear in 6 October 2011, December 2011 replaced with a Timeline. Here are my thoughts and concerns about that Timeline, and some suggestions about managing your Timeline when it arrives …
I’ve been testing out Facebook’s new Timeline which will shortly replace profiles for all 800 million Facebook users. I have some concerns which I’ll outline in a minute, but I have to give credit where credit is due: Timeline looks amazing. I think this is the first time Facebook has stopped looking like a direct descendant of the profiles found on online dating websites! The new cover image, which is separate from your avatar or profile picture, stretches across the entire screen and is much more richly visual experience, combined with far better navigation tools for exploring the entirety of someone’s Facebook history, not just their current statuses and photos. Here’s what the top of my Timeline looks like:
The tools which allow you to emphasise certain events on your timeline let individuals build an engaging and carefully curated story of themselves. And in a move which deliberately situates Facebook as telling the story of your life, Timeline actively encourages users to add in missing details. When I look at the notification of my 2000 university graduation, Timeline suggests I add to the story and post a picture, enriching the tale visually. If I add a picture, then the event ‘looks’ more interesting and is more engaging than a bit of text in an ‘Info’ box. However, in moving from being primarily about current communication to adding the archival/historical emphasis, a number of privacy-related issues arise.
My Timeline image above is missing a lot of detail since it’s the view that the public can see – ie someone who I’m not connecting to at all – and my privacy settings are high (almost everything is ‘Friends Only’; incidentally, once your Timeline is visible you can use the right-hand setting indicator – the one that looks like a wheel – and select ‘View as …’ to check how your Timeline will look to anyone else, including the public view). It’s notable, then, that the cover photo — the big one, at the top of your Timeline, which isn’t your profile photo — joins your profile photo as an image that you can’t make private; if you can be found on Facebook, it’s there. (I presume this might disappear if you prevented your profile being found in searches, but I can’t say that definitively.) Profile pictures have been unavoidably public for a while, so we just need to remember this about cover photos, too.
If you scroll down my Timeline (which, as I said, is now absurdly easy with the right hand date-based navigation tools) this is what you can see for 2011 and 2010 (there’s not much there, but take a look at what is visible):
On some abstract level, I was aware that when I ‘voted’ or clicked ‘Attending’ I was committing to something that was visible beyond my immediate ‘friend’ network (notable for me since, due to my privacy settings, not much else is). However, most of these actions or events had, from my perspective, long since ‘disappeared’ to the extent that, in order to find them, someone would have to click to ‘load more’ on my Facebook profile page 20 times or more to see anything. Timeline changes that. Now my voting and the public events I attended are very prominent since that’s pretty much the only thing public. And while these were largely very quick responses, these little bits of information suddenly ‘say’ a great deal about me; indeed, for the public, these are the main bits of the story Facebook tells about me.
Now, some of the things I’ve said I’ve attended are pretty trivial, but some are political (it’s very clear what my political views are) and others are on the boundary of personal and political. When I voted ‘Yes’ to ‘Should Same Sex Marriage Be Legal In Australia’ I was stating something publicly, but I’d never considered that my response would be so prominent on Facebook (it wasn’t on my profile page very long, for example). Now, for me, this isn’t a big issue; I’ve got sufficient workplace security that I can’t imagine these views would jeopardise my employment, and I stand by my politics proudly. I suspect, though, this won’t be the case for everyone. I can think of numerous scenarios where this information might be misused by other people and I strongly recommend folks take a look at their Timeline view from the public perspective as soon as it’s available to them.
From what I can see, it is possible to remove certain items from Timeline, or at least reduce their prominence, but you have to do it from your view (not the public view I used to generate the above images) so if you’re a prolific Facebook user, it’ll take a while to find these items and reduce their visibility.
Now, I’m not suggesting Facebook ‘made public’ something that was private. This information may have felt private, but that was based on use, not on a technical sense of security. Indeed, danah boyd expressed this problem in her paper ‘Facebook’s Privacy Trainwreck: Exposure, Invasion, and Social Convergence’ explaining:
The tech world has a tendency to view the concept of ‘private’ as a single bit that is either 0 or 1. Data are either exposed or not. When companies make a decision to make data visible in a more ‘efﬁcient’ manner, it is often startling, prompting users to speak of a disruption of ‘privacy’.
Technically, the information above was always public, but my experience of it meant it felt largely private. My example is extremely banal, but for other people, the sudden prominence of certain information may make it feel a lot more public than they ever intended. While I acknowledge Facebook has started to provide more robust privacy tools, I’ve seen nothing in the hype around Timeline to warn folks about the way their Timeline will tell a different story about them (and a different story to different people – your Friends will see one ‘you’, but the public may see a quite different one). If Facebook is going to be an ongoing repository, the always-being-edited ‘This Is Your Life’, then Facebook and those of us teaching about these tools need to ensure folks have a much better understanding about Timeline and similar changes. When your life story is a series of entries in a database, then the line between public and private is a single setting. However, that database, as we can see, can always be sorted, ordered and presented in very different ways.
Digital Culture Links: September 7th 2011
Links for September 2nd 2011 through September 7th 2011:
- 28% of American adults use mobile and social location-based services [Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project] – Pew research, September 2011: “More than a quarter (28%) of all American adults use mobile or social location-based services of some kind. This includes anyone who takes part in one or more of the following activities:
* 28% of cell owners use phones to get directions or recommendations based on their current location—that works out to 23% of all adults.
* A much smaller number (5% of cell owners, equaling 4% of all adults) use their phones to check in to locations using geosocial services such as Foursquare or Gowalla. Smartphone owners are especially likely to use these services on their phones.
* 9% of internet users set up social media services such as Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn so that their location is automatically included in their posts on those services. That works out to 7% of all adults.” [Full PDF Report]
- Random thoughts about piracy [Social Media Collective] – boyd on the culturally-specific takes on media piracy: “I was absolutely enthralled with how the discourse around piracy in India was radically different than anything I had seen elsewhere. In India, piracy is either 1) a point of pride; or 2) a practical response to an illogical system. There is no guilt, no shame. I loved hearing people talk about mastering different techniques for pirating media, software, and even infrastructural needs (like water, electricity, even sewage…) There was a machismo involved in showing off the ability to pirate. To pay was to be cheated, which was decidedly un-masculine. Of course, getting caught is also part of the whole system, but the next move is not to feel guilty; it is to bribe the person who catches you. Ironically, people will often pay more to bribe inspectors than it would’ve cost them to pay for the service/item in the first place. Again, we’re back to pride/masculinity. Pirating was an honorable thing to do; not pirating is to be cheated.”
- Practise the web safety you teach [SMH] – Important little piece reminder K-12 schools that they need to practice what they are starting to preach. It’s great to give students and parents tips on protecting their identity online, but when schools post photographs of students with full names online – often without getting parental or student consent – that’s hardly reinforcing the privacy-aware message.
- The Fall of WikiLeaks: Cablegate2, Assange and Icarus [techPresident] – One (of many) takes on how Julian Assange and Wikileaks went too far in releasing entirely unedited records unedited. They’ve not only lost the moral highground, but tarnished past partners and ensured anyone in a position to leak something in the future would be even less likely to do so: “WikiLeaks has now indiscriminately dumped the whole cable set into the public arena, and in doing so it has tossed away whatever claim it might have had to the moral high ground. The argument that others were doing it already, or that bad actors were already getting access to the leaked master file and thus this was a mitigating step to reduce coming harms, or that it’s somehow The Guardian’s fault for publishing what it thought was a defunct password, doesn’t absolve WikiLeaks of its large share of responsibility for this dump. People are human; to err is human. But refusing to admit error, that is hubris. Assange, like Icarus, thought he could fly to the sun.”
- AFACT Uncle Sam’s puppet in iiNet trial [SMH] – “US copyright police are pulling AFACT’s strings as it drags iiNet through Australian courts, but is anyone really surprised? The Motion Picture Association of America is driving AFACT’s legal attack on Australian ISP iiNet, bringing in Village Roadshow and the Seven Network to avoid the impression of US bullying, according to US diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks. It seems the MPAA deliberately avoided picking a fight with the more powerful Telstra, instead hoping for a quick victory against the smaller iiNet which could set a national and perhaps even international legal precedent to aid the Americans in their global fight against piracy. The undertones of American imperialism and Australian subservience are disturbing …”
Digital Culture Links: July 21st 2011
Links for July 13th 2011 through July 21st 2011:
- Google Scholar Citations [Google Scholar Blog] – Google launches (in very limited release) Google Scholar Citations, their own citation statistics for scholarly articles and books. Google Scholar has appeared to be one of Google’s least loved and least developed projects, so I’m glad to see it’s getting some TLC. That said, citation metrics are funny things and tend to be used in far more ways than intended, especially in evaluating ‘academic performance’. What sets these metrics apart from others is that thanks to Google Books, many citations from books and of books are in here too (many citation metrics are articles only). Which leaves me with one big question for now: carrot (what Google can do for struggling scholars out to prove their worth) or stick (is your data in Google Books, and if not, why aren’t you hassling your publisher to get included and thus get better metrics?)?
- Pottermore and Google team up to enable Harry Potter ebooks push to Google Books libraries [Inside Google Books] – Google Potter – definitely a win for Google: “When JK Rowling’s new website Pottermore opens its doors this Fall, we’ll provide services to help fans make the most of their ebook purchasing experience. Pottermore and Google are teaming up to integrate Pottermore with a number of Google products and APIs. So when the series of Harry Potter ebooks launches on Pottermore.com in early October, these bestsellers will be available in the U.S. via the open Google eBooks platform. When you buy a Harry Potter ebook from Pottermore, you will be able to choose to keep it in your Google Books library in-the-cloud, as well as on other e-reading platforms. […] Also under this agreement, Google Checkout will be the preferred third party payment platform for all purchases made on Pottermore.com.”
- Rebekah Brooks “Friday” (Rebecca Black Parody) [YouTube] – Impressive mashup lampooing Rebekah Brooks and the News of the World phone hacking scandal.
- Australian Cinema Tickets Most Expensive: Choice [WA Today] – Throw in 3D for good measure and it’s close to $100 for a family of 4! “Australian cinema-goers pay more for their silver screen experience than anyone else in the Western world, according to consumer advocate Choice. Spokeswoman Ingrid Just said that Australians heading to the cinema paid far more than movie audiences in the US and New Zealand. Research found that, on average, Australian adults paid around $18 per ticket, while families of four can expect to fork out up to $67 for admission to the local multi-national cinema complex. “Taking into account exchange rates, an Aussie family of four spends just over $34 more than a New Zealand family and $28 more than a US family on a trip to the flicks,” Ms Just said.”
- LulzSec hack into Murdoch’s British websites [The Age] – “Hackers who broke into the News Corporation network and forced its British websites offline claim to have stolen sensitive data from the company including emails and usernames/passwords. All of News Corporation’s British websites were taken offline today following an attack on the website of tabloid The Sun, which earlier today was redirecting to a fake story about Rupert Murdoch’s death. Further pain is expected for the media mogul as the hacker group responsible for the attack claims to have also stolen emails and passwords for News International executives and journalists. It said it would release more information tomorrow. […] The infamous hacking group LulzSec have claimed responsibility for taking over The Sun’s website, linking to a site with the fake story under the headline “Media moguls body discovered”, with “Lulz” printed at the bottom of the page.”
- A life in writing: Slavoj Žižek [Culture | The Guardian] – Short and sweet interview with Slavoj Žižek. Notable quote regarding Wikileaks: “”We learned nothing new really from WikiLeaks,” he tells me later. “Julian is like the boy who tells us the emperor is naked – until the boy says it everybody could pretend the emperor wasn’t. Don’t confuse this with the usual bourgeois heroism which says there is rottenness but the system is basically sound. […] Julian strips away that pretence. All power is hypocritical like this. What power finds intolerable is when the hypocrisy is revealed.””
- BBC rents out Doctor Who via Facebook [TV Tonight] – “BBC Worldwide will offer a series of digitally remastered Doctor Who stories to ‘rent’ via Facebook in Europe, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. By using Facebook credits, users visiting the official Doctor Who page will be able to stream a selection of nine stories (each containing several episodes) from the history of the Time Lord, including digitally remastered classics such as ‘Tomb of the Cybermen’, ‘Silence in the Library’ and ‘End of the World’. […] John Smith, Chief Executive at BBC Worldwide said “As we have grown internationally, we’ve seen through our Facebook channel that fans who are loving the new series are asking for a guide into our rich Doctor Who back catalogue. Our approach to Facebook and other leading edge platforms is to be right there alongside them in fostering innovation. We see this service as a perfect way to give our fans what they want, as well as a great way for them to get their fix between now and the autumn when Series Six continues.”