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Facebook VERY SLOWLY rolls out Timeline

As privacy outfit bangs on FTC door again

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Facebook isn't in any great hurry to update its users with the company's "frictionless sharing" feature Timeline, despite boss Mark Zuckerberg enthusiastically announcing it in September 2011.

The dominant social network began rolling out Timeline, which Zuck dubbed as "a place you're proud to call your home", last month. However at present the firm isn't immediately upgrading its 800 million-strong userbase. Instead Facebook appears to be closely watching the reaction to the feature from those people who proactively click on the "Get Timeline" option.

The company declined to give The Register specific details about when it plans to roll out Timeline to all its users, preferring to simply say that the process will happen over the "coming months".

We quizzed a Facebook spokeswoman on early responses to the latest revamp, which is arguably one of the most significant makeovers in the social network's history.

"As with all updates, we take user feedback very seriously. We closely monitor the emails, comments, and correspondence we receive directly from people as well as look at the data of how people use the service," she said. "We use it to inform all future changes."

Meanwhile, US online privacy advocates EPIC are once again asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the social network to determine whether Timeline is legal.

A letter [PDF] sent to the FTC in late December urged the commission to consider whether the new feature was "consistent" with the terms of a proposed privacy settlement.

Last November, Facebook agreed to a bi-annual privacy review for the next 20 years, following a complaint submitted by EPIC to the FTC in December 2009.

In that instance, the group grumbled about Facebook's tweaks to user privacy settings, claiming the changes were in violation of consumer-protection law.

"Having just reached a settlement with the commission in which the company is required 'to take several steps to make sure it lives up to its promises in the future, including giving consumers clear and prominent notice and obtaining consumers' express consent before their information is shared beyond privacy settings they have established,' Facebook has once again taken control over the user's data from the user and has now made information that was essentially archived and inaccessible widely available with the consent of the user," EPIC breathlessly wrote.

Facebook has already dismissed the consumer watchdog's comments by claiming that the likes of EPIC should in fact be "applauding" Timeline.

A Facebook spokesman said: "As we explained when we announced Timeline in September, and we reiterated last month when it became available worldwide, timeline doesn't change the privacy of any content. Everything is accessible to the same people who could or likely had seen it already in their News Feed sometime in the past. In addition, timeline offers a number of new, simpler, and more effective ways for people to control their information, including activity log, the most comprehensive control tool we've ever developed. We think these innovations are things privacy advocates should be applauding."

But the social network is approaching the rollout of the new feature very slowly indeed. That may be a coincidence - or it could be that Facebook execs are more nervous than the company's public bullishness over Timeline currently suggests. ®

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