Facebook to make listings public via search engines

Users can opt out by changing their privacy settings

Facebook is changing its social networking site to make the names and profiles of its members available to nonmembers and eventually accessible through search-engine listings.

The change means that people who are not Facebook members will be able to search for friends or others by typing their names into a search box on Facebook's home page, according to a Facebook blog post.

In a few weeks, Facebook will also make the information accessible via search engines such as Google, Yahoo and MSN Live, said Facebook engineer Philip Fung in the blog post.

"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," Fung said.

Users who don't want their listings to become public can opt out by changing their Search Privacy settings. Listings will only appear in outside searches if users' search settings are set to "Everyone."

"We think this will help more people connect and find value from Facebook without exposing any actual profile information or data," he said.

Facebook could not be reached for comment.

Om Malik, publisher of GigaOm.com, a San Francisco-based technology news site and weblog, said one of the great features of Facebook was privacy.

"You could be assured that what was in Facebook remained in Facebook," Malik said in his blog. "However, that illusion might be ending soon."

Malik said once users' profiles are available on search engines, Facebook will become a quasi-White Pages of the Web, rather than a social networking site.

"Every time a non-Facebook user finds someone on Facebook after a 'search,' they might feel compelled to sign up and get more information. It is a virtuous cycle, meant to attract more people to the Facebook network."

Malik said he is concerned with the change, saying it's a step in the overall erosion of people's privacy.

"I don't like the direction where all this is headed," he said. "We are slowly leaving digital litter all over the Web, and someday it is going to cause problems."

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Linda Rosencrance

Computerworld

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