Maybe they should call it ButtBook

We’re expanding search so that people can see which of their friends are on Facebook more easily, Phillip Fung says on the company blog. He adds,

The public search listing contains less information than someone could find right after signing up anyway, so we’re not exposing any new information, and you have complete control over your public search listing.

In a few weeks, we will allow these Public Search listings (depending on users’ individual privacy settings) to be found by search engines like Google, MSN Live, Yahoo, etc. We think this will help more people connect and find value from Facebook without exposing any actual profile information or data.

Translation: If you’re a FaceBook member, your ass is now online.

Yes, you can opt out:

As always, if you do not want your public search listing to be visible to people searching from outside of Facebook, you can control that from the Search Privacy page. Please note that you will only appear in searches outside Facebook when your search settings are set to “Everyone”.

But this is a significant shift. The walled garden called Facebook is declaring itself a public space where suddenly all its members have name badges visible by default to the world.

Seems to me this is not what its members bargained for when they joined up. But I’m 60. The bargain at 18 or 35 might be very different.

Yet, I submit, the bargains we make with commercially-based social silos like FaceBook are by nature Faustian, whether or not it’s cool with us that FaceBook creates fresh exposures of our identity data to search engine users — including, of course, countless marketing data harvesters and spammers who will soon be sending us crap with subject lines containing bait from FaceBook profiles (even if they’re minimized).

Anonymity should be the default in the way we face the open world — the one where search engines crawl public sites and data. When we become members of organizations, we by default should assume that data about us will be made available on a selectively permitted basis arrived at by mutual discretion, between the member and the organization. That isn’t happening here. FaceBook is unilaterally deciding to expose its members to who-knows-what, in addition to friends looking for friends. Giving members opt-out is lame, retro and and a breach of faith.

What we call “online social networks” mostly are not. They are private walled gardens that exist for reasons that are far more commercial than social. We need to remember that.


  1. Jon Garfunkel’s avatar

    I just dusted off the ol’ manifesto…

    #18: “Companies that don’t realize their markets are now networked person-to-person, getting smarter as a result and deeply joined in conversation are missing their best opportunity.”

    #63: “De-cloaking, getting personal: We are those markets. We want to talk to you.”

    #93: “We’re both inside companies and outside them. The boundaries that separate our conversations look like the Berlin Wall today, but they’re really just an annoyance. We know they’re coming down. We’re going to work from both sides to take them down.”

    Hey, I’m a cynic/critic about a lot of things. I’ve spent as much time as anyone over the last few months trying to design a way for ordinary folks– especially those who don’t have online profiles– report anonymous harassers online. That initiative got barely a percent of the attention that Facebook is getting now.

    Facebook is fun. By virtue of its named identities, it’s a lot of fun and there’s none of the trolling and manipulation of the blogosphere.

  2. Pie and Coffee » Items’s avatar

    […] Maybe they should call it ButtBook: “What we call ‘online social networks’ mostly are not. They are private walled gardens that exist for reasons that are far more commercial than social. We need to remember that.” […]

  3. Bob Meade’s avatar

    Good points, Doc. I’m going to deactivate my Facebook account right now.

  4. Isabel Hilborn’s avatar

    Doc, I may be missing something but, as a privacy advocate (and universal identity advocate) myself, I’m not sure I agree with your conclusions. First of all, I’m not sure anyone still believes that the information they post on Facebook _won’t_ someday be available to their mom or future employer. And if they do think so, well, aren’t they a little naive?

    When will people learn that security through obscurity is not really security? If people don’t want their birthday and favorite books publicly available on the web, they can do what I did – don’t post them on facebook. Pick and choose which Facebook applications you install and groups you join, knowing that others will be able to see your choices. Learn to differentiate junk mail from real mail. I guess I would say that media literacy is the responsibility of the user. And anonymity in online communities can lead to as much abuse as exposed identity, if not more.

    As for exposing what large-scale social networking memberships people have – I’d honestly prefer this to be public. If you want to be part of a private Facebook group, you can, by the way — I’ll invite you to join mine and nobody except the members will know you’re in it. What the web has done by letting everyone join the conversation is make everybody into a mini-celebrity. That comes with the good – we have larger audiences for our antics – and the bad – there’s more publicly available information about us and our opinions.

    I believe one’s web self is a public self. Those who don’t like it don’t have to participate at all; they can participate anonymously where permitted; or they can identify themselves in smaller, more exclusive subsets of social networks that are specifically designed to meet their privacy needs. Sounds like a great market opportunity.

  5. Doc Searls’s avatar

    There is a good dialog in the comments of David Weinberger’s post here between David and Gene Koo, with a link to Danah Boyd’s post on the same matter. Those three are all Berkman fellowren, for what it’s worth. If what Alan Herrell says above is true (and I think it is), the Quechup spam that’s currently littering my mailbox, and those of countless others, was harvested from my public address book at FaceBook. As they say in Cackalacky, that ain’t right.

    The choice to be a “public self” on the Net ought not be a binary one defaulted for exposure. The default should be anonymity, with selective disclosure of identity-related data. I believe this is also where David and I agree.

    If I get a break from other obligations, I’ll post more on this later.

  6. Facebook is becoming like my puppy… at Girls with Macs’s avatar

    […] by now) is that Facebook is opening its doors to search engines like Google, MSN, and Yahoo. As Doc Searls says, your “butt” will now be ONLINE instead of the safe walled garden of a ginormous […]

  7. Roland Hulme’s avatar

    What utter bollocks. The whole point of Facebook is to expose yourself – to friends, family and people you haven’t seen for years. If you put up a profile on Facebook or Myspace it’s reasonably implied that you are putting your information OUT THERE for people to find.

    Besides, Facebook is pretty neat on keeping all but your most basic details hidden until your request to be and are approved as somebody’s friend.

    Hey, Buddy. If you don’t want your name on search engines – DON’T HAVE A PROFILE. Certainly don’t keep a blog. Us bloggers are all disgusting self publicists.

    I think you’re just kicking up a fuss where none is to be found for the sake of it. Having ‘google-stalked’ plenty of ex girlfriends / friends / bosses etc. in past, I can say with certainty that you can keep your web-profile down to a minimum if you so choose.

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