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.