What’s in Facebook Stays in Facebook?

Not anymore… Facebook have announced that they are adding a public search facility which in a month will be linked into the main Google search allowing anybody to obtain the name and profile picture of any Facebook member. The search will also provide links to Facebook functionality to allow the retrieved Facebook users to be contacted directly.

True they will only be revealing a name and a picture, but it is still a lot less private than before. You can also restrict search access through your profile settings too, but it’s very much an opt out rather than an opt in.

The growing phenomenon of Facebook is definitely starting to cause concern – Om Malik is quoted in the BBC article highlighting that the move turns Facebook into a de-facto phone book of the internet – he also highlights the risk of publishing too much information on your profile when for example people often use their birthday as a significant bit of information for their banks.

There are also growing issues with regards to the fact that the site was previously aimed at students. This is a definite issue with schools, for example at Beth’s school all of the staff with Facebook accounts were called to a special meeting on Monday to in particular highlight the potential issues with the information staff could put on their profiles, and more importantly how to deal with friend requests from students. The same issues will obviously relate to other people who work with young people, for example youth leaders in Churches. How much information are you putting in – and who else is being linked together? Do you really want what you friends are writing on your ‘wall’ to be visibly by those you work with in a professional capacity?

To some extent we’ve had similar issues with this site, as have other teachers with blogs – we try to ensure that we don’t mention Beth’s school by name, or link to it directly (much the same as I do with my employer), and this site is also explicitly blocked on the school servers. Essentially schools all over the world are going through the same issue, but on a much larger scale. After her experience before Beth has said that she is absolutely not going to get a Facebook account -and as I’ve mentioned before, mine is as slim as it possibly can be.

Update: The Scobleizer article that I linked to in the comments section, and the original article that Scoble was answering are well worth a read too. In particular with the original article it is worth considering the question as to what you reveal to whom by joining a city network, and also taking a look at the range of discussion in the comments. There is also some good discussion about perceived versus actual security, particularly with regards to MySpace and Facebook.

5 thoughts on “What’s in Facebook Stays in Facebook?”

  1. Thanks for the post. I understand your concerns regarding the Facebook privacy issues, but I really don’t understand the hype around the Search issue.

    :: The search will also provide links to Facebook
    :: functionality to allow the retrieved Facebook
    :: users to be contacted directly.

    If you use the new search on the Facebook front page (when not logged in) you do indeed see the profile pic and name of those who match the criteria you enter, and you’re presented with the standard links (send message, poke, view friends, add to friends) but clicking them simply takes you to a sign-up page.

    Your information is no more public now than before. Previously if anyone really wanted to see what’s in your Facebook profile they would sign-up and then search for you. This new move simply turns that process on its head – they search first then sign-up.

    As they’ve given the user the ability to manage their own privacy, and widely publicised it, I can’t see what the concern is with the new development. Have I missed something?

  2. The difference is that currently people explicitly have to go to Facebook to do the search, now it will come through in Google. So although in reality the information is no more open, it will be a lot easier to look up now that people only have to type a name into Google.

    With regards to the privacy, Facebook is operating privacy in the way Microsoft used to with security – in that an awful lot of it is turned by default – check out this article on Scobleizer which highlights some of the issues. For example item 4:

    The default is far beyond friends-only and locking a FB profile down to friends-only takes dozens of clicks in numerous different locations.

    Also check out the response from Scoble:

    Privacy in Facebook is frustrating. For me I just want to turn it all off. So I notice the walls. For my friends who are newbies and who don’t want to be public? The settings are too hard to figure out and the nomenclature is difficult to understand. What’s a “network� anyway? Who does that apply to? There aren’t any examples and you only learn about those by spending a bunch of time inside Facebook learning about how it works. Danah’s right to point out this stuff is way too hard and doesn’t “thrill.�

    The thing to bear in mind is that unless there is a problem, most people won’t worry about their privacy settings, especially not if it is a complicated job. How many Facebook users have actually been through the multiple pages of privacy settings to work out what information can be seen by who? Not many I expect – but as the Scobleizer posting highlights the default settings are probably a long way beyond what people are expecting.

  3. :: The difference is that currently people explicitly
    :: have to go to Facebook to do the search, now it will
    :: come through in Google. So although in reality the
    :: information is no more open, it will be a lot easier
    :: to look up now that people only have to type a name into Google.

    I may be splitting hairs, but I don’t see why this should make people more concerned. So instead of going to Google and typing a name, they go to FaceBook instead. Not sure how this is “a lot easier”.

    :: the default settings are probably a long way
    :: beyond what people are expecting.

    There’s no accounting for people not reading what they’re signing up to and making sure they’re happy with it.

    But to be fair to FaceBook, the recent change has been publicised on the FaceBook Blog and to every FaceBook user as they login including instructions about how to stop your details from appearing. Alongside that a Press Release has been circulated widely resulting in lots of press coverage of the issue. It’s not as if they’ve released this change under cover of darkness.

  4. Probably is pretty subtle, but the difference from my point of view is that Google is pretty well synonymous with searching for information – currently you have to explicitly go to the Facebook site and search. Certainly anyone seriously wanting to find information could do that anyway, but it’s about setting a line for how easy or difficult you want it to be to find out information.

    You’re absolutely right that the recent change hasn’t been kept secret, indeed the fact it was announced so widely is the reason I blogged about it anyway! 🙂

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