Facebook Opens Up To Public Search


[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=http://digg.com/tech_news/Facebook_Opens_Up_To_Public_Search]

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?


Joe Cady

I think that this is just the tip of the iceberg when looking at up and coming conflicts between Web entrepreneurs and the general public. Oddly, the more our privacy becomes fragile, that is, the more diffused and diverse our personal info becomes on the Web, the more powerful the tools for processing that information can become, and so the more potentially lucrative the manipulation of that information will be. If this is true, it’s the markets that dictate that we will further continue to lose control of our public identities, up until some future yet-undetermined breaking point. In the meantime, we’d all be wise to watch our steps. Is submitting this comment really such a good idea?


If facebook dont be careful they will lose there people on facebook, who wants there information worldwide, no one, and if we cant haev privacy well i will close out my account and so will many others as well

S. Srinivasan

facebook could make our worst dreams of Microsoft come true. Thankfully MSFT is geeky, not loveable and Passport never took off, so it remains but a platform. In stark contrast facebook users LIVE & LOVE inside the facebook app and its gaggle of third-party widgets. facebook is not a platform – nobody lives inside a platform – but an app is a different beast altogether. It makes you feel…at home. And at home you open up everything. You think only your roommates see/hear you, but just like in college, this ain’t the real world because all (most of) the economic activity is OUTSIDE of facebook, in the Ad-embedded widgets that come in from OUTSIDE this world. And that is where the slippery slope lies.

The real danger is not the public listing – it is after all only a couple of small details. The devil is in what their privacy policy states like pointed out above in another post. In order to continuously grow facebook, people’s privacy will be eroded to feed the Ad-embedded Widget beast. Users will be encouraged to live their lives as though in a personality contest, and enticed to reveal more and more. Fish in a fishbowl dont lead meaningful social lives.

facebook is a social utility – NOT a social eco-system. People forget that in order to run a healthy society you also need an economic basis. Although it’s really convenient to have a single sign-on to a cool club, it’s far more scalable to belong to a city-state that can sustain itself socio-economically. And that is only possible if people can live multi-faceted lives in the same place, e.g. being a part-time student, a realtor, parent, etc. – simultaneously. Diversity is how we get the right checks in place, promote learning, and thereby accrue ever increasing value as we develop various facets to our personality. It’s not just about revealing more, it is about developing more that is worthy of reveal!

What the world really needs is socio-economic networking, not just social networking.

AnaCaz The Insightologist

If Facebook was giving 30 days for people to reset their privacy options, why has my Facebook account name and the associated email address already been acquired by RapLeaf AS OF SEPTEMBER 5TH? After stupidly checking my email addresses on Rapleaf last week, I received an email yesterday from Rapleaf telling me that someone (probably me) had searched my email address. They had my full real name and listed Facebook as one of my social networks. I changed my Facebook privacy settings as soon as the announcement came out. Alas, it’s too late. Luckily, the email in question is not my primary.

I should note that I’ve also noticed an increase in the amount of spam coming to this account in the past week. Is this related? I think so. Also, I should mention that unlike Paul Reilly who posted earlier, my facebook account does not come up on Google.


absolutely fine by me. all people can see is my name and photo. im sure 90% of people have more info on them available on other sites anyway. at least on FB you have absolute control over what people see. this is again, blown waaaay out of proportion!


I visited my account today and I already changed my settings. Facebook anticipated that members will enquire this privacy link and it is quite manageable to update it. I think every member will be notified thru their accounts about these changes. To have a peace of mind, I suggest that try not to put confidential or private info in your profile like mailing address, mobile phones, etc. or just your close friends have access on these details.

Philip Wilkinson

I had left my facebook profile open deliberately so that anyone else in the network could search for me and see if they want to read my stuff / connect.

With that in mind – the google announcement scared the hell out fo me as I don’t want people finding me through a search engine, even by accident.

Two things spring to mind:
1 – how confident are we that the privacy settings will be 100% watertight with google?
2 – a lot of people might not even know about this change or how to change their privacy setting…

Dale Dunphy

On the privacy front, you can’t have your cake and eat it too! Social networks, by their nature, allow your fellow citizens to find and interact with you. Many seem to forget that Facebook is a business and is not the property of its users. Use it with Facebook’s policies and procedures or abandon it for the next thing to appear on the social networking front. As Kent said in a previous post, the option to lock down your privacy is there to use – “…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 is a non-issue!

Dave Haygarth

“You could be assured that what was in Facebook remained in Facebook.”
Where on EARTH did you get this impression from? Did you ever read their Privacy policy? What utter nonsense – Facebook weren’t ever in it for you – Facebook are in it for Facebook. Naive in the extreme.

alex smith

has anyone heard of this new social networking site – Capazoo.com? I hear it was started by a couple brothers – Michel Verville and Luc Verville. Anyone?

Matt Dsuig

Facebook isn’t the only social network on the web. It may be the most talked about today. This doesn’t make Facebook the whitepages of the web? There are a hundred million more profiles on MySpace than on Facebook. The real white pages of the web come from sites like http://www.yoName.com, Wink, Pipl and others.

Mark Sigal

Om, I agree with your assessment on how Facebook will play this, especially as it pertains to pursuing the reputation management angle.

Specific to the topic of security, I read a great book some time back called The Transparent Society by David Brin, and a fundamental premise of the book is that there is a choice between privacy and transparency.

The privacy choice is about trying to protect and maintain security of information so that only the authorities have access to private information. The transparency choice is about making everything transparent and pushing tools down to the consumer so that we all have access to the same information and presumably better tools to manage that information.

Simple example: video cameras pop up on streets everywhere. This is a seeming inevitable trend. Are you better served by having a private company having access to that data, knowing the poor record of protection and accountability seen with financial companies handling of credit card, social security and like data? Are you better served having only the police have access, knowing the breakdown of personal liberties since 911?

Or, would YOU like to have access to that data so you can see if someone is lurking around the corner?

Framing this paradox, there is an interesting company called Lifelock whose president touts their identity protection service by running his social security number in the ad.

Pretty interesting fork between privacy and transparency.

Keep up the good work!


My Blog: http://www.thenetworkgarden.com

Leighton Cooke

I agree. This is yet another erosion of privacy. Part of the appeal of Facebook was precisely the ability to create a private social network and to be able to choose how much information one wanted to make public.


i’ve had qualms with Facebook since day one. i’m a fan of MySpace myself, which i know is still a social network that divulges info – and i know that MySpace pages do come up in Google searches – but considering MySpace tends to unite strangers and Facebook tends to unite old classmates, etc. i always find it easier to be anonymous and ‘unfound’ on MySpace.


Yeah… I think I’m pretty sure I”m deleted my facebook account after this. Even if I have boosted up privacy settings, it’s only a matter of time before they change it again to make everyone more accessible, and ruin the privacy. (Let’s add high schools! Let’s add businesses! Let’s not even make people have a network!) It’s getting ridiculous.

Joss Sanglier

I notice that, as usual, you have to “Opt Out” rather than “Opt in”

And I have opted out as quick as I can – more of your digital litter.

Los Havros

I’ve configured my privacy settings so that I am not viewable on public search. What concerns me though, is that even though users are given 1 month’s notice- the system is opt-out rather than opt-in.


For those concerned about Digital Litter – stop using online social networking sites – its not as if you HAVE to use them!!

It really is that simple, but seems not so for the millions who only seem to use such sites just because its the ‘IN’ thing.

So – in short, if you want privacy, stop putitng yourself onto public sites!!!


If you dont like social networks…dont use them…problem solved. You can keep your privacy!

I dont use facebook but I do use a different social network, and I post what I dont mind other people viewing. If I do have somehting I want to keep private, I’ll go about doing that some otherway, through text SMS or email.


If you don’t want your private details to be in the public domain, don’t type them into those little boxes on the webpages!

The moment you click on SUBMIT you have surrendered some of your privacy. But it’s always your choice.


It’s not a big deal. You set your privacy options. Facebook may reveal your name and city, I don’t see any problem with that.


It’s hardly an erosion of privacy. Facebook gives you the option to make yourself public, and I’ve been reconnected to a lot of old friends because of it.
A true erosion of privacy would be facebook making you messages and comments searchable on the internet, for instance.


Why are so many people in this world ready to blatantly give up their personal privacy online FOR FUN (of all reasons!) and in the process make others multimillionaires and billionaires?


You and turn off the public searching with one click.

Again I am not sure this something to be worried about yet. . . .

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