Everyone loves timelines. They really are an excellent way of communicating a huge amount of chronological data in a neat, comprehensible package. Timelines can tell all sorts of stories, from a history of Roman expansion and decline to the life achievements of George Clooney. But now, thanks to a new feature the Facebook has been rolling out over the last month, a timeline is now able to tell the story of you.
On first glance, the Facebook timeline seemed to be pretty much the bee’s knees. With a few clicks I have access to every post ever written on my wall, every major life milestone I’ve chosen to make Facebook privy to and every photograph I’ve ever been tagged in. And it’s all packaged in a neat, attractive, chronological stream of information. Then I realized something: I’m not the only one who can go back and laugh at those awkward photos from the state high school jazz festival from Freshman year, and I’m not really sure that’s a good thing.
Besides shining a light on what I have to admit was a horrendously uncool period of time that my first few years of high school, Facebook’s timeline is actually a little bit creepy. It would be a lie to say the I don’t see the appeal to the sort of chrono-voyeurism that the systems flaunts, but as always, the thought of someone using this feature to spy on my past is a little unsettling. Do I really need to advertise exactly when I started working at the local supermarket, or on exactly what date I became “friends” with my aunt? I suppose that all of this information was already available to anyone who wanted to bother looking for it (though honestly, who would?) but have it all seemingly paraded around for the amusement of anyone with a passing whimsy just feels a little weird.
Beyond the social implications, there are the inevitable professional ones. Last year Microsoft released a study that shows that roughly 70 percent of potential employers check applicants’ Facebook profiles during the job application process. Depending on how thorough a search you were expecting, it was generally pretty simple to clean up your most recent photos and hide any incriminating personal issues from prying eyes. But now, with the entirety of your Facebook history on one incredibly long, incredibly detailed column, digging up some e-dirt on you just got a whole lot easier.
Who knows where the timeline will go from here. It seems pretty complete now, but what other secret data about me does Facebook have hidden in the woodwork, waiting to reveal with the next UI update? Does it matter? We’ve long known that on the internet, privacy is dead, and all of these changes really just serve to reiterate the same simple rule that’s been used by security experts for years: Don’t be stupid.