Facebook braced for new privacy controversy as it prepares for $100bn flotation

Changes to Facebook always provoke controversy and more is expected during the next few weeks as users are forced to adapt to the website's Timeline feature.

The social media website is rolling out the feature which it says will allow people to give a better idea of who they are.

Although users were able to opt into the new Timeline from December 15, the feature is to become a staple part of the website, but users will have seven days to add or remove things from their Timeline before it is visible to friends.

This latest change to Facebook will allow people to access easily their friends' status updates and photographs from as far back as 2004 when Facebook was founded - but the website insists that the change does not affect users' privacy.

The changes come amid growing speculation that Facebook is finalising plans for stock market flotation, with analysts predicting that public offering of shares will value the company at close to $100bn.

But the seven-day period before the new timeline goes live allows users to remove any aspects of their profile from a few years ago that they may regret posting on their page.

There will be what Facebook calls an 'activity log' which will allow people to apply a specific privacy setting to each post that is published on their page - meaning that people can decide whether all or just some of their friends can see a particular photograph, for example.

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A Facebook spokeswoman said: 'It will show you all of your posts and activity - from today back to when you first started using Facebook.

'Only you can see your activity log. You can use it to easily review and choose who sees what you've shared on your Timeline.'

According to Paul Bradshaw, visiting professor of online journalism at City University London, being able to retrieve information posted on Facebook pages from a number of years ago may make people more aware of what they post.

He said: 'I think it taps into a wider issue that people make assumptions when they use a social media website regarding who can see what they're putting up there.'

On the issue of protection of information when social media websites such as Facebook make changes, Mr Bradshaw added: 'People need to act accordingly.'

Josh March, chief executive of Conversocial, a social customer service software company, believes that despite initial protestations, people will soon get used to the latest change on Facebook.

He said people were initially angry about the introduction of the Facebook news feed, otherwise known as a user's home page, but he believes that this latest change is 'a much less controversial change' than that was.

Mr March says the news feed change went on to become 'the backbone of Facebook's success', and although people might worry, they have no need to.

He said: 'What the Timeline does is it works out what is most interesting in someone's timeline. Instead of showing everything, it highlights the most interesting aspects of someone's profile.

'It gives you more control than you have right now as you can choose to hide stuff.'

In terms of privacy, Mr March says that people have no reason to have concerns.

He added: 'People always worry about this sort of thing but it's not showing people what they can't already see.'

The change will be rolled out over the next few weeks to Facebook's 800 million-plus users.

Nick Pickles, director of privacy at civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, said: 'While privacy settings don't change, users may be very surprised to see what is publicly visible on their timeline.

'If the site was serious about protecting users' privacy, the new change would give people an option to remove everything from their timeline with one click. Instead you have just seven days to review everything you've ever shared, post by post.'