Is Timeline on Facebook a dangerous step too far?

We’ve been monitoring the developments on Facebook recently and like many of you we have been playing with the new Timeline feature. Once you switch it on it allows you to present your life as a timeline and displays what you have done over the years on Facebook in sequential order.

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Mark Zuckerberg said last week at a press conference to unveil Timeline that he wanted people to be able to share “their entire lives” on Facebook and have “total control” over how their content appeared online.

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Now we’re not sure about you but this simple statement set off all sorts of alarm bells with us. For a start, why is it suddenly desirable to share your entire life on a Social media site? Timeline could be seen as a dangerous extension of what some people view as an unwanted window into a person’s life, and can be used for harm as much as good.

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We know of certain businesses that won’t employ an individual unless they have friended the Business on Facebook, and at that moment their entire life is thrown into a new perspective. Do you really want to give your potential future employer access to not only what you are doing and thinking now, but for as long as your timeline extends? Are there things in your past on Facebook that you would rather were not there? How many photos of you in social situations could be misconstrued by a potential employer? How many status updates contain emotions or language that could be misinterpreted?

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On top of this though the worrying thing is that despite all its previous security and privacy concerns Facebook still believes that it is the right vehicle for us to trust with all this data. Which we know, or would do if we read the small print, will be used by them to let other businesses sell stuff to us.

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We know it’s the Marketing ideal; ‘personalised customisation’ or ‘bespoke marketing’ by telling people what you like and then letting firms who can supply those goods or services advertise to you, but how many times recently have you been haunted by adverts for a firm whose website you visited once? Google already have the software in place to allow display ads to follow your path around the web and they seem to shadow you for weeks afterwards. Facebook is currently no better and frankly we object to them second guessing what we might need. Our buying pattern and behaviour is eclectic at best and maybe it’s just us, but we enjoy novelty and spontaneity which you can get from stumbling across something you’ve never thought of before and following it through. Targeted ads simply serve to reinforce our previous behaviour and do nothing to help an individual change or grow.

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Perhaps that’s where Twitter scores over Facebook in that you can choose what you see and follow ideas and threads which you would otherwise have never seen. It also scores highly in that it doesn’t try to use or abuse your personal information. Plus it’s where the latest news breaks. And you’re not bombarded with adverts. Hmmm. Suddenly we’re questioning Facebook in a way that we never did before.

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Ultimately Facebook users will help to decide its fate however history would suggest that when you try to monetise what was essentially a simply way of letting people keep in touch, you lose the original purpose. And when you do that, well, history is littered with examples which Mr Zuckerberg could do well to heed.