Facebook Under Scanner – Timeline Privacy

Facebook seems to have gotten itself into yet another controversy.

The Federal Trade Commission has been asked to investigate possible privacy violations in the new Facebook Timeline feature. The FTC was approached by the Electronic Privacy Information Centre, a public interest group. Yahoo News published an article quoting, “Facebook is changing the privacy settings of its users in a way that gives the company far greater ability to disclose their personal information than in the past.”

With Timeline, Facebook has once again taken control over the user’s data from the user, and now made information that was essentially archived and inaccessible widely available without the consent of the user.

When EPIC solicited the FTC to look into Facebook’s privacy settings, it produced a two year scuffle that ended last year with an illustrious settlement between the two parties involved.

The first complaint was made by EPIC in 2009. EPIC initially asked the FTC to investigate why Facebook would alter its users setting and make available his personal information like Friend List and Apps usage, more available to other users and FB’s business partners. It was later resolved in 2011, on the condition that Facebook would keep users information private. But the user information was made available to third parties and in some instances; the site even permitted advertisers to obtain personal information from users who clicked on ads. Facebook was accused of unjust and deceiving performance.

The second complaint was made in the dawn on 2011. It brings to light the new timeline feature, which dismisses the earlier agreement. The earlier settlement forbids Facebook from making any more deceptive claims, and necessitates the company to get consumers consent prior to altering the way it shares their data. The proposed settlement bans Facebook from making future changes in privacy settings without the consent of users and requires the company to put in practice a comprehensive privacy protection program and submit to independent privacy audits for 20 years. In return, Facebook agreed to create a complete privacy program. They hired Erin Egan and Micheal Richter as Co-Chief Privacy Officers along with revising the corporate structure.

Even though this social networking tycoon endows its users with selections, to adjust the new privacy settings, there are a few things that change if the user does not anything in the review timeframe. So, by default the remaining Facebook users are forced to switch to Timeline. Without tweaking the privacy settings, the user may be at a risk of disclosing his phone number, photo gallery, comments, friend list, etc to anyone. Not many comprehended what was happening, when they switched to new Facebook layout. Even thought all hope is not lost, it is brutally mired.

Once the review period expires, the user will be left with two choices –

  1. To delete his account.
  2. To delete each and every post that the new interface chose to make public, without the users consent.

On the whole, EPIC is is trying to protect the consumers data from third parties because Facebook simply permits everyone to see someone’s personal data. Even though it can be argued that why put up something personal on a social networking website, the risk of cyber crimes and finding personal details to map attacks remains a matter of utmost concern. The liability is on the user to edit their privacy settings to tweak their Timeline to only show information they want to let somebody else see. Facebook is promoting unnecessary disclosure by over sharing its user’s information which is dangerous.

Well, it leaves us on a note where everyone might have a different take on this matter. While some agree that Facebook Timeline is promoting unnecessary disclosure by over sharing its user’s information, which is dangerous; others argue that people should be responsible for their own information, as you should not expect a ‘social’ website to be ‘private’. Facebook has over 800 million devoted users, who are currently onlookers to this incessant controversy.

Facebook is definitely not putting its best foot forward, post the New Year.