[qi:020] One of the great features of Facebook was privacy. You could be assured that what was in Facebook remained in Facebook. However, that illusion might be ending soon. Tonight, Facebook launches a “public listing search” which allows anyone to search for a specific person. The […]

[qi:020] One of the great features of Facebook was privacy. You could be assured that what was in Facebook remained in Facebook. However, that illusion might be ending soon.

Tonight, Facebook launches a “public listing search” which allows anyone to search for a specific person. The company says that the information being revealed through these listings is minimal and much less than the information available to someone logged into the Facebook network.

A public search listing provides, at most, the name and profile picture of any Facebook member that has their search privacy settings set to “Everyone.” It will show less information about a person than results of a search performed by someone logged in to Facebook. We wanted to give people who had never come to Facebook, or who are not currently registered, the opportunity to discover their friends who are on Facebook.


In a month from now, these public listings are going to be find their way into search engine indexes. “We are giving users approximately one month to set their privacy options before we allow search engines to index these public search listings,” the company spokeswoman wrote in an email.


This move transforms Facebook from being a social network to being quasi-White Pages of the Web. Every time a non-Facebook user finds someone on Facebook after a “search,” they might feel compelled to sign-up and get more information. It is a virtuous cycle, meant to attract more people to the Facebook network.

This development is going to strike fear in the hearts of entrepreneurs behind people-search startups that have mushroomed in recent months and have raised many millions in venture backing. It is also be a worrisome development for reputation-based systems such as Rapleaf that are creating profiles of people on the web. With the growing database of names, it is only a matter of time before Facebook rolls out a reputation system, and pegs it to an e-commerce engine.

On a more prosaic level, this “public search” move will help goose up the page views nicely – handy metric when trying to tap the public markets.

Think broadly however, this is yet another small step in the overall erosion of personal privacy, thanks to the ever growing popularity of the social networks. I don’t like the direction where all this is headed. Stefanie Olsen in her excellent piece for News.com paints a pretty bleak picture. We are slowly leaving digital litter all over the web, and some day it is going to cause problems.

What are your thoughts?

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By Om Malik

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  1. there are pit bulls being tortured/killed by Michael Vick, and now you want me to worry about “digital litter”?!

  2. Provided there’s an option to opt-out through privacy settings, which there is, I think it’s fine.

  3. Facebook has excellent privacy settings and knows that a privacy is the killer feature of the application. Compare the granularity of the facebook privacy settings to MySpace or Orkut. Orkut for example is a horrible offender in terms of private detail visibility. Also the details available through search engine would anyway appear to any digital stalker who would find it easy enough to create an account. As things stand today, putting a photo on Facebook is a little more safer than putting it in flickr ..

    The Digital Litter is a serious problem of our connected life, but more than facebook, the search engines are to blame. The only way to avoid the loss of online privacy is active policing of ones digital presence. Easier said than done and great idea for a startup to make tools to allow active policing.

  4. hardline facebookers will take umbrage, but with “new” (read older) users almost equal in number to FB’s college aged base – this might be ok. Americans don’t care about the Patriot Act or illegal domestic wiretapping — having old friends or potential employers finding us online isn’t that big of a deal. Another sign that people search is becoming an essential part of the web.

  5. Facebook Profiles Go Public » netZoo Wednesday, September 5, 2007

    [...] practically spam every search engine with profiles? By joining the site did you agree to — as Om Malik put it — put your name in a veritable White Pages for the [...]

  6. Facebook Opening to Search Engines — Save your Privacy!

    Facebook is planning to open itself to Search Engines and is giving its users a few weeks to change their Privacy Settings. I logged into Facebook and saw the following message:Check out your Public Search ListingNow people can search for thi…

  7. Private Lives, Public viewings….

    So…..Facebook is shortly going to make itself searchable from outside. From tonight. No early warning so you can reset your profile unless you read the blogs. The business logic is inescapable – more visibility means more traffic, once the search engin

  8. This is going to do wonders to Facebooks market reach. It’s basically being indexed for every user it has (provided they don’t opt out). Thats millions of people advertising for Facebook.

  9. If they are going to do that, which benefits them, they should allow people to expose more of their profiles, such as extended links, so that members could benefit from search crawling on their facebook profile.

  10. As a frequent Facebook user (embarrassing), it is apparent to me that the only people who have their profile setting configured in such a way that everyone can see their profile are narcissistic enough to secretly like that they can be searched for and found. This will cause some stir with college kids, but as is the norm with that set it will die down in a week .

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