Posted September 5, 2007 7:12 am by with 13 comments

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A predictable clash of interests is brewing.

Mark Zuckerberg – programmer and founder of the social networking site Facebook – has taken yet another controversial decision, this time to integrate profile searching, in an effort to drive more traffic from name-based searches across the major search engines.

Although users will be able to exclude their profiles and the facility will be restricted to over 18’s, initially many participants will be concerned for their privacy.

The Public Search Listing of a profile shows the profile picture thumbnail and links to interact with a user on Facebook. People will always have to log in or register to poke, message or add someone as a friend. A user can also restrict what information shows in their public listing by going to the search privacy page.

In parallel the Open Social Web, a consortium of social networking evangelists, have outlined the basis of a Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web – which supports:

  • Ownership of their own personal information
  • Control of whether and how such personal information is shared with others
  • Freedom to grant persistent access to their personal information to trusted external sites

Co-authors, Marc Canter (founder of social networking company Broadband Mechanics) and Joseph Smarr (head tech guy at social networking company Plaxo), have garnered the promotional assistance of Robert Scoble and TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington to help assert this new initiative.

Canter explains the reasoning behind their push:

The document lays out the basic rights that users should demand from any social site they use, with respect to ownership, control, and freedom of movement of their personal information. It also describes four things that sites need to do if they want to be truly supportive of those fundamental rights.

  • Allow their users to syndicate their own profile data, their friends list, and the data that’s shared with them via the service, using a persistent URL or API token and open data formats
  • Allow their users to syndicate their own stream of activity outside the site
  • Allow their users to link from their profile pages to external identifiers in a public way
  • Allow their users to discover who else they know is also on their site, using the same external identifiers made available for lookup within the service

Pete Cashmore, over at Mashable, asks if anyone actually cares:

This sounds a lot like talk and no action to me… what difference does it make if anyone agrees to this

IMO I think people care ‘big time’ about their own or group’s privacy and the real question is whether or not the social networking supremoes care enough to protect this fundemental right – which, again IMHO, should be a prerequisite. Facebook’s new Public Search Listings will give me one month to tune my privacy settings before my profile (although we’re promised minimal information) goes public. Clearly if it were a user-centric decision it would have been an opt-in process, not an opt-out one.

Cashmore goes on to suggest that engineering a solution for the portable social network would be a more fruitful debate. I agree that network cross-fertilisation would be a more useful (and private) way of networking with friends and colleagues, than the wrong stuff ending up on Google or Yahoo!

  • I think this is a bit of a storm in a teacup. I’m quite happy for people who search for my name on Google to come up with my FaceBook profile. If anything, the public profile is a bit limited, there are other bits I’d like to add, but Facebook wants to keep these closed off to the outside world. It’s a step in the right direction I say.

  • James Morell

    It’s not really much of an issue is it? Linkedin have allowed user profiles to be searchable for ages, and they did this, as far as I recall, without telling anyone that they were going to.

  • Interesting post Paul. I have to say that I agree with some of the other comments, in that I doubt most users care too much about their profile turning up in the listings, so long as they are made aware of it, and can stop it/choose what goes public. As Owen says, some people may want to go further.

    The real issue here is the one raised by Danny & Tom (on SEL & Distilled respectively) which is that a lot of profiles are already public, which seems to have been done with no notification. Facebook’s first PR slip-up maybe?

  • you are missing half the problem, Facebook have worked hard implementing privacy on all kinds of things such as preventing personal RSS feeds being shared, and Google doesn’t the standards introduced a year ago.

  • I agree with Ciaran, if people have the choice to hide their profile from public search, no big deal. I don’t care if i come up in the search results, the main thing of which i’d be afraid is potential employers, or other “non-friend” types viewing at my personal profile, so i just modified my security settings on facebook.

  • Is there going to be much of a difference from what Myspace offers on its public profiles (of people who have private profiles)?

    I think as long as they tell people that it is there and how to manage it, it is a great idea both for users and for Facebook. I know I wouldn’t mind having my profile appear in the search listings.

  • Jordan McCollum

    How is this “Bill of Rights” supposed to be binding? It’s like a blogging code of conduct. Woohoo, it’s got big names attached to it, but unless every other major social network jumps on board, or there’s a major outcry (from the college students?), Facebook is unlikely to feel compelled to go along with a suggestion from a site and organization that began today.

  • So that’s a unanimous don’t give a shit then! Well don’t come running to me when your mate posts that picture of you with your pants down on their indexed profile. 😉 But seriously, I guess most of us use social media for professional purposes anyway – so controlling search inclusion is not a terrible idea. Aside – I do believe network portability is worth pushing.

  • Paul I am not saying that.

    That picture with “you with your pants down” could already be shared in Google Reader and headline news all over Twitter, Pownce and 100s of splogs with one mistake of a hotkey.

    What real difference does very limited search make?

    I currently have a mixture of my updates and shred items being broadcast on my blog, and a link through to the shared feed that has the data.

    Facebook has data protection built in to prevent sharing, Bloglines supports it, and no one in the tech industry gives a damn.

  • With regards to the pants down picture (have you been looking at my profile again btw?!), from what I understand, that won’t be visible at the moment – just the user’s chosen profile picture.

    And if “Facebook have worked hard implementing privacy on all kinds of things”, then why have they rather quietly made so many profiles searchable already?

  • I believe that Facebook’s move to integrate profiling searching is just another means by which they hope to increase their member base. If non-Facebookers are able to search to see who they know is on Facebook, they in turn will be motivated to become a member of Facebook themselves. I think it will be highly effective in attracting more visitors to the site and therefore result in an increase in members in this social network.

  • I can’t really see how a tiny page with a little picture and a name identical to millions of others will boost their traffic.

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