Facebook has announced a new profile page layout called "Timeline" that will be launching for all users soon. Unfortunately, the timeline appears set to join the long history of Facebook privacy faux pas by making previously private information public. But don’t worry, all you have to do is follow these 9 not particularly simple steps and you can temporarily partially remedy the situation!
Disclaimer: I of course can’t be sure if my experience of the beta timeline profile is the same as anyone else’s, nor what changes Facebook might make going forward. This is what I experienced & what worked for me.
What Facebook’s Timeline Makes Public
There’s at least 3 things the new timeline appears to automatically makes public to the entire internet (not just your friends):
- Every “public” event you’ve ever RSVP’d to.
By “public” I mean an event that the creator marked as public at the time. In my case, many of these events were by no means truly public events in the offline sense of the word. While it might be possible that someone could already circuitously find out if I attended a public event, it certainly feels different to just have the events all listed right there under your name whenever anyone Googles you / looks you up on Facebook.
- When you started using an app with Facebook.
These are both apps within Facebook (e.g. Words with Friends) and third party apps you authorized to access your Facebook account (e.g. RockMelt1). Not every app showed up here, but some did.
- When you started using Facebook.
Not exactly deeply personal, but it’s still making something public that wasn’t before.
How To Make It Private Again
There is no way to universally hide your entire history from non-friends2, you have to remove each unintentionally public item one at a time. Note that these steps will only be relevant once you have the new timeline profile page.
- On your profile page, under the little gear in the upper right across from your name (next to “Update Info” & “View Activity”), click “View as…”
- At the top there’ll now be an “Enter a friend’s name” text box & in the text above that box it says “Use this tool to see how your timeline appears to a specific friend or the public.” Click the word “public” (yes, only that one word buried in text is linked).
- The timeline will load dynamically so essentially you have to scroll down slowly to make sure that everything loads in.
- There are little blue boxes in the middle of the timeline that usually show dates (e.g. “July 2011”, “2010”, etc). However, sometimes these can be “…” in the blue box instead. Click on all of these that appear (to show all events from that period).
- The boxes of content will each give you a little “X” delete box when you hover over them, but these will not work (because hey, you’re “public”, not you). Ergo you have to make a written list of each one manually, along with which date it’s under so you can find it again later.
- Scroll back to the top of the page & click “Back to timeline.”
- Now scroll down, waiting / manually expanding the “…”s in the timeline as needed to find each item you listed from before.
- On each item, click the little pencil and select “Hide from timeline”.
Three things to be aware of:
- There is no option to change something that is public to be friends only. You have to hide it from everyone, including yourself.
- For app-driven posts, the other option you’ll be given is “Remove Words With Friends” - this does not mean “remove all posts in my timeline from this app” (there is no such option), it means “delete this app from my Facebook account entirely”.
- For cases where there’s multiple items in one box such as Events, the edit/delete box won’t appear when you hover over the top right corner - it’s still on the right side but down a bit lower in the box for whatever reason.
- Return to the “View as public” and make sure you got everything you wanted.
The Bad News
Unfortunately, as things stand it seems reasonable to conclude that whenever you RSVP to a public event or add/authorize an app with Facebook you’ll need to scurry on over to your timeline page and hide that item so that it’s not instantly & easily viewable by the whole world. Of course this also means none of your friends will be able to see it on your profile. Nor will you. Like Facebook says: the timeline is for “telling the story of your life”, not merely keeping it.
Under “Privacy Settings” (reachable via the little arrow in the top right of every page), there’s a “Limit the Audience for Past Posts” option that ostensibly makes every past post “Friends only”. It didn’t do a darn thing for me. That said, I’d recommend clicking it anyway just for good measure. ↩
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