Facebook’s little privacy problem

This morning’s Observer column

Aw, isn’t that sweet? The nice folks at Facebook are anxious to ‘help more people connect and find value’ from their social networking site.

Let’s see how that will work in practice. Someone types ‘John Smith’ into Google – and up comes his Facebook public search listing. To find out more about this fascinating chap, however, the searcher has to either log into Facebook (if s/he is already a member), or subscribe to the service if s/he is not. Either way, the searcher is lured into Facebook’s walled garden.

Does this help John Smith ‘find value’ from Facebook? Well, maybe – if he’s desperate for his personal details to be accessible to anyone on the web. But the main beneficiary of this erosion in users’ privacy will be the company that operates Facebook, and it is disingenuous to pretend otherwise.

Of course, Facebook’s owners protest that members can avoid this by adjusting their privacy settings. But you only have to look at a few Facebook profiles to see that most subscribers either don’t know how to limit the amount of personal information that is displayed on their profiles, or simply cannot be bothered. So, coming soon to an office near you: some really embarrassing job interviews…