Facebook Timeline application now available to all users

Social network begins making new feature available to 800 million users

Facebook has begun rolling out its long-awaited -- and in some quarters, feared -- Timeline application to all 800 million users worldwide. Timeline reformats the popular social network site and makes past information more easily available.

Starting Dec. 15, any Facebook user can choose to install Timeline by clicking on the "Get Timeline" button on the app’s introductory website. Once installed, users have a seven-day period to preview Timeline before it becomes visible to other users, the company said in an announcement on its website.

The much-buzzed-about Timeline feature was announced in September, with bloggers anticipating a release in October, and there has been speculation that concerns about privacy, last-minute debugging and a legal dispute over the Timeline name contributed to pushing back the introductory date.

A Facebook spokesman denied there was a delay in the release: "When Timeline was announced in September, it was immediately available as a developer beta — more than a million people received access to Timeline this way — and we also only specified that Timeline would roll out in the coming weeks, which is what we're doing today," the spokesman said in an emailed statement on Dec. 15.

Related story:

Facebook poised to dredge up your embarrassing past

Some observers have cautioned the Timeline might hurt users’ privacy by dredging up more of users’ potentially embarrassing past information—those party photos from last New Year’s Eve, or New Year's Eve 2002, for example—than had previously been the case. This could be a problem for some federal employees and contractors. For example, if you recently got a security clearance that could be endangered by photos or posts from several years ago, you might have reason to worry. A 40-year-old fed trying to work her way into the Senior Executive Service might not want pictures from her friend's bachelorette party 10 years ago appearing on her manager's computer as part of her timeline.

Facebook appeared to be addressing those concerns when it included instructions on how to hide the Timeline in its welcome kit:

“You get to decide which stories appear on your timeline,” Facebook’s Timeline Web page states. “To hide a story so that it no longer appears on your timeline: Hover over the story and click [eraser icon]. 2. Click Hide from Timeline.”

However, Facebook instructions add that stories that are hidden from Timeline still show up in users’ activity logs and are eligible to appear in friends’ news feeds. For full deletion of a story, users are advised to select “Delete Post.”

The Facebook spokesman offered further clarification on hiding items from Timeline: "Through the Activity Log, which is only visible to yourself, you can review anything you've posted on Facebook as well as what other people have posted about you, such as photos or status updates. From here, you can decide what to show (or not show) and whom to share it with. You have complete control over what you want to share and who sees it," the spokesman wrote in the email.

Timeline is the latest in a long line of changes to privacy and user settings made by the giant social network in recent years.

It also is considered to be one of the most sweeping changes to date because it allows past information to be much more widely accessible.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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