Facebook Ends Timeline Privacy Feature: Quick! Run & Stop The Stalking!

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fbPhoto: Via USA Today.
Ever since the dawn of Facebook there have been people who, like yours truly, have always been a little wary of the "social" aspect of social media. Those people had the option to hide themselves from being searched by strangers and friends alike, but no longer. Yesterday, Facebook announced that it would be discontinuing a privacy setting that prevents people from finding you by name. The feature, called "Who can look up your Timeline by name?" removes the ability to access a Timeline profile via search — even if you were looking someone by their exact name. The thing is, it already disappeared a year ago for people who didn't have the feature enabled. According to Facebook, the number of users affected is only "a small percentage of people — in the single digits."

Explaining the decision to sunset the feature, Facebook's Chief Privacy Officer Michael Richter wrote in a blog post yesterday, "The setting was created when Facebook was a simple directory of profiles and it was very limited. For example, it didn’t prevent people from navigating to your Timeline by clicking your name in a story in News Feed, or from a mutual friend’s Timeline." So people could still potentially access your profile, just not via search.

"The setting also made Facebook's search feature feel broken at times," Richter wrote. "For example, people told us that they found it confusing when they tried looking for someone who they knew personally and couldn't find them in search results, or when two people were in a Facebook Group and then couldn't find each other through search."

As Kashmir Hill at Forbes notes, "One of Facebook’s major functions in society at this point is as a digital directory — a white pages — for confirming a person’s identity or figuring out how to contact them. So this is welcome news from the perspective of being able to track down anyone you want, even if they didn’t really want to be found."

But it's not as cut-and-dry as that. Hill also points out that even a single-digit percentage of Facebook's billion users still translates to many millions of people. Since Facebook introduced Graph Search in March, search options on the site aren't confined to name alone and more directly engage the content on your Timeline. For those many privacy-prone people affected by this discontinuation, it's now more important to lock down the privacy settings on your Timeline content itself. Or you could always just switch it to "Friends Only." (USA Today)