It ain’t the Timeline, it’s the Ticker, Doc.

Ever since the forthcoming Facebook profile changes announced earlier this week at the f8 Facebook Developer Conference, there has been a lot of talk online about how the new Timeline layout of your user profile will affect your privacy.


Essentially Facebook is taking all of the information that you have already entered into the social network, your profile, your photos, your posts, comments and other’s comments about you and presenting it in clickable chronological order. This has given some commentators cause for concern. Not I.
I’ll admit that when I first read about the changes I was a little worried, even to the point where I messaged my girlfriend to express my concern (I know, geek). So I thought to myself, “Ferguson, don’t be so negative, at least check it out first before going off the deep end.
So I logged into Facebook and enabled the new Timeline view (it’s not publicly released yet, but here’s how you can get it in advance) and to be honest I loved what I saw. It’s pretty, it’s intuitive and it certainly says a lot more about me (it’s a profile after all) than the previous layout.
Enough of the aesthetics though, what of the security concerns? The thing that led me to write this blog was an article by Gregg Keizer which featured commentary from Sophos’ Chet Wisniewski. Chet is of the opinion that the new layout simplifies the procedure of data mining any given individual, he says “Timeline makes it a heck of a lot easier [for attackers] to collect information on people“. He’s right too, If I had previously wanted to look at everything someone had ever done on Facebook , it would mean a aeons of clicking to load older posts. Now it’s all presented in a scrollable timeline, much more simple. So why do I disagree?
Timeline certainly makes it easier for anyone who has access to my profile to find out about my Facebook past, but my profile is set to private. Not only that I am also very selective about who I add as a friend on Facebook. In all honesty I really don’t mind my friends data-mining me if they have nothing better to do on a rainy afternoon. I’d have to wonder why, but hey, whatever turns your crank… Incidentally, Timeline also let’s you work out who has “unfriended” you.
Of course if my profile was configured to be viewable to the general public, or if I added just anyone as a friend, then timeline would indeed add a whole new set of concerns. To be honest though, if your Facebook profile is publicly viewable or your an inveterate befriender of stranger, you have far bigger concerns already… None of you do that, do you?
There has to be something that worries me in the new Facebook though, and as my fellow Tweeter Kurt Wismer agreed, it’s the Ticker. You’ve seen the Ticker, right? It’s the new scrolling display of updates int he top right corner of your Facebook page. Why do I worry about the Ticker? It publishes all your activities, including check-ins, in real time to all your friends, including your interactions with people and groups those friends don’t know (if that content is public). This is very much a stalker enabler. Now not only can I watch what you are doing on Facebook with people I know, I can also see when you comment, post or like something I have no connection to whatsoever, this is A Bad Thing.
For now, there’s not not you can do about this other than appeal for Facebook to reconfigure this functionality and apply the same kind of discretion any normal person applies in real-life. There is current a groundswell of people posting the following status and for now it’s the only option you have…

Here’s the text in case you want to copy/paste.

“Please do me a favour: please hover over my name here, wait for the box to load and then hover over the “Subscribe” link. Then uncheck the “Comments and likes” choice. I would rather my comments on friends’ posts not be republished. Thanks** Then repost if you don’t want your EVERY MOVE posted on the right for everyone to see! :) i’ll do the same for you if you want. just click “like.”


4 thoughts on “It ain’t the Timeline, it’s the Ticker, Doc.

  1. Pingback: Making the most of Facebook privacy – Part I | Simply Security

  2. Pingback: No es la línea de tiempo, es el Ticker, doc! »

  3. Mark

    I’m not sure that I agree with all the negative hype about the ticker. You even mention in your post that it’s the public content that is displayed. You can go to your Privacy Settings and edit app settings so they do not broadcast your activity when you use them. You can also track down ticker posts about your activities and set them to not display. There are always ways to limit your exposure on Facebook, it might just take a bit of work to figure them out. Circulating chain status posts doesn’t help folks, as these posts really don’t teach them the fundamentals of Facebook privacy, and what the full ramifications of their actions might be. Trying to make all of your FB friends custodians of your privacy by asking them to change their subscription settings is the weakest solution to the problem.

    1. Rik Ferguson Post author

      Hi Mark,

      it’s certainly far from ideal to rely on other people to protect your privacy, unfortunately this latest update on Facebook undid many of the settings that users (including myself) may previously have had set, such as not posting your own likes and comments activity onto your wall. As far as I have been able to ascertain, there is no method of turning these kinds of posts off again.

      it seems that Facebook users can no longer control whether that kind of activity is broadcast, only to whom it is broadcast. This affects not only “public” postings, but also “Friends of Friends” of course, and this is plainly contrary to putting a user in control of their own content.


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