Editorial: Facebook’s lack of privacy leaves room for concern

Esteban Diaz | Editorial Cartoonist
Esteban Diaz | Editorial Cartoonist

It’s hard to remember what the original Facebook looked like. There might have been a small news feed in the right corner of the screen with the most recent status updates from your friends and “poking” was a more common activity than it is today. Now, Facebook has decided to reformat its home page once again, making it less likable in the eyes of many of its users.

Over the past week, Facebook has integrated the “Top Stories” and “Recent Posts” sections to each user’s homepage. The problem with this change is that users don’t want Facebook determining whose stories are most important for them to see information about.

Another concern users have with the new layout is in the top right of every Facebook home page. There is a real-time “Ticker” that shares the most recent activities done by friends: photo uploads, status updates, friend acceptances and many more. As convenient as it is to see all the recent activities by friends, the new ticker opens the door for more users to stalk their friends’ activity.

Matt Liebowitz wrote in an MSNBC.com article Monday, “The ticker gives Facebook’s hundreds of millions of users up-to-the-second access to the personal lives of their contacts.”

Things that should be private or less open to the public eye should not be so visible to users on their own home page. Liebowitz noted a blog post by Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant from the security firm Sophos, who said the new ticker on Facebook is “an invitation to disaster.”

“The ticker has just made it much easier to eavesdrop on what were probably intended to be more private conversations,” Cluley said.

Everybody realizes creating a Facebook profile allows their friends more access to their lives, but Facebook was operating fine without a ticker. It should be perfectly acceptable to upload a photo or make a comment without every one of your friends knowing. It is as if Facebook now puts a megaphone in front of each of its users; even a passing “hello” gets heard by everybody.

By the end of this week, Facebook will also have the “Facebook Timeline” installed for every user. The Washington Post’s Hayley Tsukayama explained each new addition to Facebook and said the Timeline “is a comprehensive and curated version of your entire history on Facebook. Pictures and videos are featured prominently, making profiles much more visually focused.”

Basically, everything you do on Facebook will be archived in a timeline format for all to see.

Yes, we have openly put this information on Facebook in the past, but when Facebook organizes every status update, wall post, picture upload or comment to a friend, that just raises the privacy concerns many users now have.

Not only will the Timeline consist of everything users have done on Facebook, but also all of the applications they have used in the past by posting their activity and information from the apps to the Timeline without permission from the user. Apps that share the music you like, the news you read or the games you play will all be compiled in a person’s Timeline to share with the Facebook world what they like to do and who they are.

Such integration is another unnecessary addition. At the very least, users must have the option to withhold whatever information they want from their timeline. If somebody doesn’t want their taste in music from five years ago to be published, it shouldn’t be.

As nice as it might seem to have a “timeline” of activity and organization of everything a user has done since he or she first joined the community, there is really no purpose for having that much information published. Information that should not be readily available to other users should not be on such an open display or shared with other users to such a high degree.

Within the next week, skeptical users will finally have a chance to see what the new Facebook will look like. There might be a little too much information for their liking.