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Facebook Opens Up To Public Search

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[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. [digg=]

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 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?

120 Responses to “Facebook Opens Up To Public Search”

  1. Note that you still can keep your privacy settings so that only friends see your profile.
    And Facebook is encouraging you to adjust your settings in such a way.

    I think it is a smart move for Facebook in many ways, and a not-so smart move in others.
    I like the move – but that’s just me.

  2. Also be aware that FB is not that secure as it stands now. Only a couple of days ago I was fooling around and it was a mere matter of finding someone (anyone) with an open account, click on there socialfeed and hey presto, all there socialfeed stuff came up. I wasn’t even there friend. Then I just swapped out there user id in the url (the 9 digit number) for another user I wanted to stal.. er view, and up came there socialfeed as well. Mind you is was all bollocks. So and so sent so and so a beer, whatshis name sent Jo Blogs a candy cane, christ is there any realy useful api’s on facebook. I know I’ll never be president ’cause I just know someone someday is gonna find out I like the Dixie Chicks.

  3. Im new with facebook but I have existing blogs and travel sites which are also searchable thru google or yahoo searches. Well, it is quite easier for friends to find me or to promote my site. I also maintain the high level of privacy in my 6 blogs/consumer sites, including facebook, so this is not scary at all.

  4. Wow, I can’t believe such a biased article got featured on the BBC news site.

    As many before me have mentioned, you can opt out of this searching, so what’s the big deal?

    Just a sensationalist blog post that would be ideally suited to the Daily Mirror.

  5. I can’t help but feel that Facebook (and Google) is only taking baby steps until everyone becomes fully comfortable with this gradual erosion of privacy. In a way, George Orwell was right after all. It all depends on how evil the corporations become.

  6. People search within Facebook is bad enough.. try finding the right John Smith or Mike Chen… Common names return too many results.

    Transpose this to Google which only returns a maximum of 2 results (indented and dependent on link structure – for the SEO geeks) and the John Smith with the most inbound links will be returned.

    Luckily there arn’t too many Paul Reillys out there.


    Paul Reilly

  7. Perhaps I’m missing something, but I really don’t see the big deal here. When I logged in to Facebook today, there was a big box explaining the new public search feature and clearly explained how to change privacy settings. If Facebook didn’t offer the privacy settings for this public search, I could see why this would be a big deal. But, they do and you can completely opt-out. One of the options says: “Allow my public search listing to be indexed by external search engines.” Unless you check that box- you’re not going to get indexed. For me at least, this is a complete non-issue and I’m not quite sure why others are making such a big deal out of it?

  8. Whatever personal information you decide to deposit in a database that is neither owned or managed by yourself will always be potentially accessible to anyone.

    I have to ask, do you people leave your windows and doors unlocked when you go to bed, or your personal details displayed on a public notice board?

    Your details are PERSONAL, keep them that way.

  9. “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.”

    Illusion is the crucial word here. Facebook has always been pretty open about the fact that they would go public with at least some information about their users and their profiles.What makes this even scarier, is the fact that Facebook collects and stores quite a lot of information, not only about their users, but also about their contacts. In their so-called “privacy” policy, Facebook states that “Facebook may also collect information about you from other sources, such as newspapers, blogs, instant messaging services, and other users of the Facebook service through the operation of the service”. In the terms of use, they go even further: “By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant[…]to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, […] worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt […]and distribute such User Content for any purpose […]to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing.”

    How is that for a bleak picture?

  10. It’s a non-issue really seeing as you can opt out, but also isn’t part of the reason for social networks to allow people to find you? Say if I wanted to find an old school friend, is it better that I have to sign up to every one of the netowrk sites out there to find them, or that I can google their name and find them straight away. If they don’t want to be found they can change their privacy settings.

    It’s not much different from having your name and address in the telephone directory really, just that it’s online so it must be evil…

  11. not anonymous

    “I pride my self on not having information about me on the internet.”

    that’s really great. and how’s that working out for you, jason? how’s life in new hampshire? do you like it better than brookline?

    what about that WMP54GS router you use? did you ever get it working with your OpenBSD setup?


  12. It is a natural progression to open Facebook to the web, although much of what is published is not very information oriented, it is an enormous amount of content and will certainly attract a large volume of traffic to the site.

  13. “erosion of personal privacy”….well put. I dont like this idea at all!!! scenario: people are going to roll up to, search for something, find my page with all my pics and stuff, and there goes my privacy! well it better not be that easy. i used to be able to deny a friend request from a random person on facebook, why even bother now?

  14. I joined Facebook in June and connected with close friends. Back then I used to visit FB several times a day. Then my work colleagues became my facebook friends – which was cool. But then about a month ago – company executives became my facebook friends. Now I check it every few weeks. This news about public search makes me even more reluctant about using FB. Not a good move.

    • Pandu
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  15. Also, if you joined Facebook to help promote a product, or a book in my case, then it will be a boost to have more people find you. Besides, there is nothing on Facebook that is not readily available by doing a Google search, at least for me.

  16. Like everything else in life, you have to weigh the upside against the downside. Sure, a bad guy can find me more easily. But so can good guys, many of whom I had no idea were looking for me. I think it’s wonderful how ancient friends and acquaintances are able to find me now thanks to my online trail.

    At least with Facebook I have some control over what everyone sees about me. That’s not necessarily true of much of the web.

  17. 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 .

  18. 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.

  19. Matthew Stotts

    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.

  20. 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.