[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?