Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The Time has come

Facebook's announcement at the end of 2011 that all of its 800 million users will be forced to use its new Timeline concept within the next few months has caused a lot of controversy since the new year began. Timeline's look-and-feel is Facebook's most radical change since the social network was launched in February 2004.

Much of the controversy has focussed on the new concept's privacy settings. While probably many advertisers and employers will welcome the change, many users might not fully realise what they are signing up to. I wonder whether millions of people will click the down-arrow next to 'activity log' once they have enabled Timeline and the click 'view as' button, viewing their profile as other friends see it, or as the public would do.

Jubilant advertisers cannot wait for the profile pictures and other information that will soon become visible to the public. It is a safe bet to say that millions of teenagers who cannot be bothered to clear out old cover photos and provide just a bit too much information will end up in thousands of databases in the US and around the world. And if you were an employer, would you not take a look at an applicant's profile to see whether his CV matches his education and employment history on Facebook? And to see what he has been up to in 2008 or 2010? Also, since millions of Facebook users like to connect to as many people as possible, how to keep track of who is looking at a certain post or event. Is it your good friend next door, a colleague or a vague acquaintance?

Although the options are there, is it realistic to expect that many users will overlook to categorise all their contacts into different 'lists' to juggle the different people in one's social life. 

And do not forget all the products, services and brands you 'like'. Do not be surprised if you suddenly pop up in an ad for Starbucks or H&M. Facebook's terms and conditions allow them to use your image in ads for products you like; after all, that is how the company makes most of its money.

Although Facebook has managed, so far, to stay within the boundaries of (US) privacy and consumer rights legislation while replacing its Wall for the Timeline feature, many experts say the company's terms, conditions and settings have become too complex to understand. As one advertising lawyer put it: 'It's Time for my clients to sign on, and for my kids to sign off.'

Michiel Willems © 2012 CP Publishing Ltd. Pictures: (top) and (above).