The Facebook Bonanza of Public Information

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The popular social networking site Facebook has recently expanded public access to information about Facebook members, making the site an even greater bonanza for finding personal information on millions of people.

For example, as noted by on December 24, 2007, “commentary by teens can be mined for information on their parents – who may be jurors, experts, plaintiffs, defendants, claimants or witnesses – for background, employment, insurance or locate investigations.”

In the January 7, 2008 issue, The Nation reports:

… One study at the University of North Carolina, for example, found more than 60 percent of Facebook users posted their political views, relationship status, personal picture, interests and address.

what many users may not realize is that the company owns every photo. In fact, everything that people post is automatically licensed to Facebook for its perpetual and transferable use, distribution or public display.

In September Facebook launched a “public search” feature to list users’ profiles on search engines like Yahoo! and Google. The move could fundamentally shift the site from a (relatively) closed social network to a more exposed public directory.

… The massive search function might one day make Facebook an indispensable part of Internet commerce–creating the “Google of people,” as blogger Jeff Jarvis puts it. … The architecture of these sites already facilitates all kinds of surveillance of unsuspecting users by the public.

Employers check Facebook to vet job applicants, for example, and some have advised users to change their profiles or photos during the application process, as the Stanford Daily reported last year. A 2005 survey found that one out of four employers has rejected applicants based on research via search engines. Campus police increasingly review social networking sites to investigate crimes.

… Young people are recording their lives in minute detail, enabling unprecedented experiences, exposure and evidence that will outlast their youth. Social networking is a free service, but abdicating control of personal information, photos, writing, videos and memories seems like a high price to pay.

(emphasis added)

Social networking sites are increasingly well-known sources of information for attorneys, private investigators, law enforcement and employers. Ultimately, an individual is responsible for protecting their personal information online and these reports highlight the ways that control can be lost when participating on social networking sites.

UPDATE: From the Opposition Research Training Blog:

The search engine Wink “will search more than 229 million names found in social networks and online communities,” and information about finding links to cached web pages “that may have been scrubbed from the Internet.”

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