On January 9, all Facebook users who haven’t already changed their profiles over to the new Timeline format will see their pages change anyway. As always with changes to Facebook, there have been mixed reactions, but Facebook at least ought to get credit for giving users a heads-up this time, instead of their usual MO (i.e., “it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission”).
Every time Facebook makes even a minor change is a good time to check your privacy settings (if you’re a Facebook user; not everyone is); with a major change like Timeline, definitely look at your privacy settings, because changes to the site mean changes to your privacy. Users can experiment with Timeline for a seven-day period before it goes live on the 9th – it’s not a bad idea to use this time not just to play around with the new layout, but also to see how the privacy settings have changed or been re-set. Unfortunately (intentionally?), these settings aren’t the easiest to manipulate or change, but it can be done.
And while you’re doing that, you might also reconsider what kind and how much personal information you share voluntarily – not just on facebook, but elsewhere on the internet. Geoff Duncan’s article in Digital Trends, “Why 2012 is starting to look like 1984,” is informative and sobering on the topic of personal privacy (or lack thereof). He also provides an excellent overview of the SOPA and PIPA bills (Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act, respectively), and this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which expands on the Patriot Act.
In a nutshell, it seems that whereas sharing personal information used to be an “opt-in” process, it’s now more “opt-out” – and sometimes you can’t.
Edited to add: While we’re on the topic of privacy, the Daring Librarian reminds us that it’s probably time to change all of our passwords. You may have dozens for all the different sites you go to; think about creating a formula so they’re easier to remember. (Here’s some more advice on password strength from xkcd.)