Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Facebook and privacy returns

Facebook are opening up their site to being Google-searchable. Hark! I hear a million privacy activists screaming.

But wait - they're actually doing it RIGHT.

a. They're only allowing name and profile pictures to appear in search results - not all the rest which tends to include highly personal material.

b. everyone appears to be getting prominent notice IN ADVANCE that they can opt out of their info being released onto Google

c. most impressively, if like me (and I imagine rather rarely) you'd already opted to "hide" on facebook, ie, not be searchable by name in their listing, you are automatically opted out of the Google release.

This appeared at the top of my FB profile this morning:

"Facebook now enables anyone to search for Facebook users who have public search listings from our Welcome page. In a few weeks we will allow users to make these public search listings visible to search engines like Google. Public Search Listings only include names and profile pictures.

Because you have restricted your search privacy settings your public search listing will not be shown. If you want friends who are not yet on Facebook to be able to search for you by name, you can change your settings on the Search Privacy page.

No privacy rules are changing; if you do choose to make this public search listing available, anyone who discovers your public search listing must sign up and login to contact you via Facebook. "

This strikes me as for once a good example of how privacy on line in web 2.0 ought to be handled - congrats to FB.

You could argue that a site like FB should not open itself to Google at all (in the interests of default privacy, etc etc) but the fact is that sites like are already begining to scrape social networking sites like FB and make the data they contain searchable with no user opt-out or notice, and dubious supervision - so this at least pre-empts such attention, and gives the user some control.

It's also interesting that this is a case of the market dovetailing with privacy-enhancing code. FB WANT you to sign up for FB and go to their site to read that highly personal stuff - not read it on Google away from their adverts and apps (or on

LiveJournal, by comparison, an open source blogging site normally regarded as fairly privacy conscious, don't care (much) about ads (they make money from paid subs and are run by volunteers), so they also don't stop you allowing spiders to grab your whole blog. User choice prevails and as we all know by now, user choice when the default is no privacy, usually means disclosure by inertia. (You can opt out of spiders on LJ too, of course - but the option is distinctly not that obvious.)


Anonymous said...

Good post! My take on the story is here:

Anonymous said...

So, what's is your facebook url, seeing as we can't search for it?!