Facebook and Google users: Your social media and online life is about to change, and there’s almost nothing you can do about it.
Facebook is rolling out Timeline, a scrapbook-like profile page that gathers every post a user has made and arranges them by year, while Google is making changes to its privacy policies that some see as the latest attack against Internet users.
Google announced it is merging the privacy policies covering more than 60 services — including search, Gmail, YouTube and calendar — into one unified document effective March 1. The new document gives Google the power to take user information from all its services and use that data to learn about a user. The only way users can opt out of the policy is to close their Google accounts.
Google’s decision has prompted concern among privacy advocates including Rep. Edward J. Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts and former chairman of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, who said in a statement that the move raises “important questions about how much control Google users will have over their personal information.”
Christopher Gatewood, a media and intellectual property attorney with Richmond-based Threshold Counsel, says the change is the price users pay for using Google.
“For Google, it’s a matter of serving up better data for each user, across services,” he said. “That gives some people the creeps, so they will want to decide how much personal data to run through any Google service.
“It’s a new cost of using Google’s services, which are free or very cheap,” he said. “Nobody likes new costs, monetary or otherwise, but it’s not like they are going to start publishing all Gmail emails.”
Gatewood warns that everyone should be aware of how their information is used online.
“You should assume that your online movements and anything you type into any online service will be data-mined and stored somewhere,” he said. “And that’s nothing new. It’s where it’s tied to your identity and a lot of other personal information that the big privacy concerns arise. It is more important than ever to be an informed online consumer.”
Like Google, Facebook’s radical redesign of user profiles via Timeline has raised new issues about users’ activities.
While Timeline has been available to certain users since late last year, it soon will become mandatory for everyone, according to Facebook’s corporate blog. Users will get a week to preview the changes and adjust the privacy setting of any posts they don’t want others — such as relatives and employers — to see.
Marcus Messner, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who specializes in social media, says users should use their preview time to review their posts.
“While Timeline does not change a Facebook user’s privacy settings, it makes previously hidden content newly available,” he said. “Let’s say you made an outrageous comment during the 2008 presidential election that was long forgotten because visitors to the profile would have to dig through page after page to get to it. Through the features of Timeline, this comment now becomes accessible again.”
Facebook users should always be cognizant of their privacy settings, Messner says.
“People, especially teenagers and college students, need to understand that they should protect their identity on social media by enabling their privacy settings,” he said. “A Facebook profile should not be available to be viewed by anyone, but only by people you know and trust.”
Reaction to Timeline is split on the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Facebook page. Most users are more concerned with the new design rather than privacy.
Jennifer Salmon Melton, a former Richmond resident now living in Charlotte, N.C., says she likes Timeline.
“I love the overall appearance of it,” she said. “I also like the way topics are grouped and organized. With any new application there is a slight learning curve, but it works for me.”
She also said she’s not concerned about any of her early posts being revealed through Timeline.
“I’ve always felt like, if I didn’t want my employer, a future employer or my mother, for that matter, to read it, then I shouldn’t post it,” she said.
Thomas McDonald, an executive member of Richmond’s Social Media Club, says Facebook members have little to fear from Timeline.
“Those who typically don’t like when Facebook changes will have their doubts about the ‘opening up’ of all their past updates, but I think most people will find that there’s nothing to worry about,” he said.
“For me, I found that most of my posts between 2005 and 2008 revolved around season-ending losses for my Cowboys.”