Facebook Timeline poses new dangers

As we’re encouraged to divulge more of our personal information online, do we risk giving identity thieves a helping hand?

Facebook has gone through several facelifts over the years but the latest revamp of the social network has raised concerns about our internet security. Facebook Timeline debuted in 2011 and features a new format that makes our archived data easier to view.

While many users hate the new Timeline, Facebook said in January that the format would become mandatory and soon all users will have to comply. 

So with this push to put our whole story out there for all to see, can we be sure we are still playing it safe online?

What is Facebook Timeline?

The Facebook Timeline format features a new look wall that is arranged in reverse-chronological order. It groups events into months along a timeline of years. It’s intended to provide a practical way to view your older activity on the site in an attractive scrapbook layout.
Timeline also works in conjunction with apps. So every time you listen to a track on Spotify or read an article on The Guardian website, it is recorded and shown on your profile. 

So it’s great for putting your life into context and uploading funny pictures of when you were four and had a bowl haircut, but not so great for keeping the past in the past and personal information hidden.

As well as the usual status updates, photos and friendships, this new format also offers the option to fill in missing bits of your life on your timeline. 

So if you only got a Facebook account when you were 18, you are now able to fill in the blanks from your birth or as Mark Zuckerberg puts it: ‘Tell the whole story of your life on a single page’.

While this is charming and offers friends and family a comprehensive picture of you and your life, it also puts people at a heightened risk to identity theft.

New measures

Experts say we need to review how we operate online as the development of Facebook Timeline provides a much richer vein of personal data, so for a user not paying attention to how Facebook treats information, there is a heightened risk of identity theft.

Credit reference agencies like Experian think that the key is to be careful about what you publish on your social networks and, vitally, limiting who can see it.

Information such as your school, place of work, bank, birthday and your family members, all provide useful pieces of your identity jigsaw to thieves. Clever crooks will know how to arrange these seemingly random facts together to unlock money in your name.

If you haven’t already switched over, Facebook will give you a seven day warning where you will be able to make the necessary adjustments to keep your information safe and any embarrassing events of the past hidden.

Why not take some time out to go through all your online profiles to check that there is no information on there that could help fraudsters.

Top tips for staying safe online with Facebook Timeline:

  1. Be proactive. If you are not a big Facebook user but like to have one anyway make sure you make the changes before Facebook does it for you
  2. Hide or delete any old posts that are too revealing or you would rather forget!
  3. Change the permissions on old photos and posts to limit the audience
  4. Make sure that on newer updates you choose ‘Friends’ on the audience selector
  5. Check what your public timeline looks like and if it is revealing too much go in and change some more of the settings
  6. Make sure you choose an appropriate cover photo. This is not private and will appear in searches