Facebook’s Timeline and fears about “frictionless experiences”

One of the concerns about the now delayed Facebook Timeline is the “frictionless experiences” concept. This is an aspect of the next iteration of the Facebook Open Graph and what it means is that users will make fewer conscious decisions about which of their experiences they share on Facebook once the new Timeline is enabled.

Facebook Timeline  Zuckerberg  Open Graph

The process, as I understand it, is as follows: as a Facebook user with Timeline enabled for your account you visit a partner website or add a partner’s application to your Timeline. When you do this, you should be presented with a permissions dialogue which will probably look a little like this:

Facebook Timeline permissions dialogue

The permissions dialogue should inform you what levels of access to your Timeline the service or application requires as well as who updates from the service or application will be visible to. This is a variation of the current permissions dialogues which pop up whenever an application requires access to your Facebook profile. The current dialogues look something like this permissions dialogue from Color, a photography application which is integrating with Facebook:

Request for permission - Color.com

While the new permissions dialogue looks somewhat less emphatic than the current ones (the permissions you grant are somewhat understated in the new dialogues), you are still required to agree to give the service or application access to your profile information in advance. The big difference between the current permissions model and the new one is that granting a service or application permission to access your new Timeline is something of a “fire and forget” process. You should be asked to give permission up front and, once given, you won’t be asked to give permission again. What’s not clear is whether services or applications you have already authorised must be re-authorised once Timelines go live or whether your old permissions carry across.

Facebook  Timeline  Open Graph partners

The reason why this is a worry for many privacy advocates is that your activities on websites you have authorised or making use of authorised applications will automatically appear in your Timeline without the need to “Like” something, as we currently do. This could lead to some embarrassment or even real harm if you, for example, engage in an activity you would prefer your Facebook friends not become aware of.

While this is certainly a concern for many users, this new functionality serves as a reminder that users shouldn’t sit back and expect Facebook to proactively protect their privacy to their satisfaction. Facebook’s recent changes to users’ privacy controls and options signal a concerted move towards better privacy protections in some respects but Facebook remains a business that profits from users exhibitionism. Users simply must take more responsibility for their personal information and must familiarize themselves with the controls being made available to them. These controls include who you share your posts and updates with; which services and applications you authorize and who those services and applications may share your activities with.

Facebook  Timeline  story of your life

Facebook’s Timeline is going to change how we share on the social Web in fairly profound, although not immediately apparent, ways. The Timeline is am ambitious tool to remake Facebook as the record of your life. It is still up to you to decide how much of that to share and with whom although some of those choices are being made for you.


Photo credit: Facebook’s f8 albums

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