Facebook listings take on the World [Wide Web]

Akshay Dave Sep 24, 2007

At the start of September, Facebook announced that it will give non-members limited access to user profiles. Now, almost anyone will now be able to look up any profile.

The expansion is to allow non-Facebook users to find their friends on Facebook without having to register for the service themselves, according to a Sept. 5 Facebook blog post by company engineer Philip Fung.

Within a few days, Facebook will allow all public listings to be indexed by search engines such as Google and Yahoo!. This means that a user’s listing will be in the crawlers’ databases and anyone with an Internet connection can search for anyone’s name and anyone’s profile pictures.

The blog post goes on to state that public search listings display less information than it would to registered members, and thus more people will find it easier to connect to their friends, without any extra information being revealed.

In the last three years, Facebook has grown into one of the country’s most visited websites and, with over 30 million unique users, one of the biggest, according to www.alexa.com.
Carnegie Mellon faculty believe that there are both advantages and disadvantages to sites like Facebook.

“Social networking websites are fantastic tools [which] mold self-identity,” said Alessandro Acquisti, assistant professor of technology in the Heinz School of Public Policy and Management. “Of course, there are limits, defined by the law, the competition, company ethics, but most importantly by what the consumers want. Facebook has become more open in the last few months. But, it has also given users more control and evidently they seem happy.”

In 2005, Acquisti, along with computer science Ph.D. student Ralph Gross, jointly submitted a research paper outlining the privacy issues that are relevant to Facebook users.

“Students tend to have misconceptions about profile viewability [and don’t realize that] a lot of their information they put up online may not be as safe they would hope,” Acquisti said.

Students on campus have different opinions about the value of Facebook.

“I have never used Facebook and don’t intend to in the future either. I have heard too many bad things about it,” said Arash Moradivafa, a first-year student in H&SS.

Students should avoid displaying personal information such as address, telephone numbers and birthdays, experts warn. Furthermore, students should bear in mind when writing notes and wall posts that users who may not be on their friends list can access the posts, too.

“It is common knowledge that you have to be sensible when posting any information on the Internet, and Facebook is no different. For example, everyone should take some time to carefully check their settings,” said Jessica Wille, a sophomore public policy and management and international relations major and Facebook user.

Acquisti agreed.

“Default settings are probably the most important responsibility of Facebook, because most of the people never bother to even read through these settings,” he said.

Facebook users can protect their public listings from being seen by non-Facebook users by clicking the “privacy” button on the right top hand corner of the Facebook homepage and then selecting “search.” By default, the boxes beside “Allow anyone to see my public search listing” and “Allow my public search listing to be indexed by external search engines” are checked. Once these boxes are unselected, the user’s profile will no longer visible be outside of Facebook.

“While some people may be aware of these settings, most people probably don’t even know they have control over them,” Acquisti said.

Most importantly, Acquisti reminded students that online profiles can be viewed as a form of self-advertisement, and students should remember that the material displayed on their profile contributes to the impression that they leave on others.

“The nature of the advertisement depends on each person’s target audience. It could be targeted towards peers or towards prospective employers,” Acquisti said.