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Google Should Be Logging In To Facebook

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the playing-nice-with-the-other-loudmouth dept.

Google 95

Frequent Slashdot contributor Bennett Haselton writes "Facebook indirectly accused Google of creating dummy accounts to log in and spider information from their site, and Google denied the charge. But if Google wants to help users discover what strangers can find out about them, then spidering Facebook with dummy accounts is exactly what they should be doing." Read on for the rest of his thoughts.

In the dust-up over the revelation that Facebook had paid a PR firm to plant negative stories about Google indexing Facebook's site, one point was often overlooked: the allegation that Google had been creating dummy Facebook accounts, and using them to log in to Facebook and spider information that was only available to Facebook users. This was denied by Google and never proven, but the denial obscures a more important point. Paradoxically, rather than hurting user privacy, it would have helped to protect user privacy in the long run if Google actually had been logging in to Facebook, spidering the information that was available to members, and making that information available in Google search results.

To review the facts not in dispute: When you create a Facebook profile, Facebook by default makes certain categories of information viewable to other users. Most of your personal information (in particular, your contact information) is viewable to other members that you confirm as your Facebook friends. A narrower set of information — usually including your name and your interests, but not including your contact information — is viewable to other Facebook members who are signed in to Facebook, but who are not in your friends list. (Let's call this the "Facebook stranger" version of your profile.) Finally, since 2007 Facebook has made an even smaller subset of information available in a "public search listing," which can be viewed without being logged in to Facebook or even having an account. Facebook explicitly stated that one reason for creating these public search listings was to make the profiles more easily findable by Google.

Now, the op-ed that Burson-Marsteller was trying to plant in the press strongly suggested that Google was using tactics like creating fake Facebook accounts in order to log into Facebook and scrape the "Facebook stranger" version of people's accounts, and not just the public search listings. (For one thing, the op-ed accused Google of likely "violating the Terms of Service" of Facebook. While scraping the public search listing obviously doesn't violate the TOS, creating dummy accounts to log in to Facebook and spider content automatically certainly does — and that's the only thing Google could do on Facebook beyond spidering the public search listing.) Of this allegation, Wired senior writer Steven Levy wrote:

This information is a lot easier to unearth from inside Facebook, but actually logging into Facebook to purloin information would indeed be troublesome. For one thing, it would violate the terms of service agreement. Is Google doing this? One of the Burson operatives implied that it is. But Google says the company does not go inside Facebook to scrape information, and I find this credible. (If Facebook has logs to prove this serious charge, let's see them.)

But why is this such a scurrilous charge anyway?

When you search for a person's name on Google, you might be looking for information about that person, or you might be doing research on what other people in the world can find about that person (particularly if that person is yourself). If a certain fact about you — for example, the members of your Facebook friends list — is viewable to anyone with a Facebook account as long as they're logged in to Facebook, then anybody in the world can obtain that information about you anyway, by getting their own Facebook account. So it's perfectly legitimate for Google to report that as a fact that anyone can find about you, if you Google your own name. You may not like the fact that Facebook exposes that information about you to anyone with a Facebook account, but it's Facebook, not Google, that makes the information available to anyone. If you Google your own name and Google tells you that that some piece of information is available to any Facebook user, Google is doing you a favor.

For that matter, it's not that easy to view your own "stranger Facebook profile" on Facebook, to see for yourself what other users can see about you. You can't just click your own profile while signed in, since that will show you all of your own personal information. You can't sign out and then click your own profile, since that will show you your public search listing (which is shown to non-logged-in users). You would have to, instead, create a second dummy Facebook account (already a violation of Facebook's TOS), which usually requires creating a second email address that you can tie to your second Facebook account, then signing in with your second account and trying to view your "real" one... How many people — even the most privacy-conscious ones who pore over every article about Facebook allegedly exposing their data — have ever tried that experiment? Having the information already spidered by Google would make it much easier.

When would you actually derive some privacy benefit from not having your "Facebook stranger" profile information listed in Google? Really, only if you're being looked up by a particularly lazy stalker who searches your name on Google — but then doesn't even bother signing in to Facebook and searching for your name on Facebook. If they're motivated enough to find you on Facebook and view your "Facebook stranger" profile there, then you've gained nothing by blocking that information from Google.

Notice this argument does not extend to some general principle that webmasters shouldn't be able to tell Google not to index parts of their website. Many websites have specified, using the Robots Exclusion Standard, that they don't want Google indexing certain documents on their site. (The Robots Exclusion Standard allows webmasters to create a file called robots.txt on their website, which tells search engines not to index any files listed in the robots.txt file. It would be technically possible for a search engine to ignore that directive and index the documents anyway, but virtually all search engines do follow it.) In that scenario, even if a document listed in robots.txt contains personal information about someone, there's no argument that "someone could find it anyway by searching, so Google is doing you a favor by listing it," because nobody would be able to find it by searching unless Google lists it. What makes Facebook a special case is that (a) it has its own search function, and (b) more importantly, it's already the place that everybody knows to go looking if they're searching for a person. These two facts mean that people can find you on there without Google's help.

That might sound unfair to Facebook — that simply because they've achieved success, different rules should apply to them, and Google ought to be allowed to violate their TOS by logging in to their system and spidering people's Facebook-stranger information. But it's the only way for Google to display honest answers, if a user comes to Google to ask: What can strangers on the Internet find out about me?

P.S.: I received many useful suggestions in response to a previous article, in which I described an algorithm for crowdsourcing the abuse-complaint-review process on Facebook, and offered a $100 prize split between users who sent in the best criticisms or improvements. So I'm going to do it again in a more free-form approach: I'll offer a $50 prize to be split between readers who email me the best negative comment or counterargument to the argument that I've just made here. Entries have to be submitted by email, although of course you can and should post your thoughts in the comment threads as well. Email bennettSPAMMERS at SUCKpeacefire dot org with "googlebot" in the subject. You can also donate your winnings to a charity of your choice.

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95 comments

And In Other News (5, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#36437666)

Who the fuck cares...

Re:And In Other News (1)

rwa2 (4391) | more than 2 years ago | (#36437824)

Well, it /is/ a refreshing break from Sarah Palin coverage :-P

So... are there any good programs Facebook users can use to spider their own accounts to make plots of degrees of separation from famous people?

I'm also kinda interested in seeing some stuff like what ircstats used to generate: http://humdi.net/~vergo/a-radio/ [humdi.net] (example)

Still waiting for all this "new tech" to catch up to where we where a decade or so ago...

Re:And In Other News (1)

cubicle (121759) | more than 2 years ago | (#36437844)

Everyone should while I neither agree or disagree with this articles points it is about privacy It does show that our privacy right are disappearing, and the worse part is we John q. Public are giving them away to Facebook and others including Google

Re:And In Other News (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36438274)

Punctuation exists for a reason.

Re:And In Other News (0)

cubicle (121759) | more than 2 years ago | (#36438418)

At least you can read anonymous troll

Re:And In Other News (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36438832)

Yes but what good would it do to read anonymous troll? What is anonymous troll about anyways?

Re:And In Other News (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36442130)

Yes but what good would it do to read anonymous troll? What is anonymous troll about anyways?

Is it important to you that What is anonymous troll about anyways??

Re:And In Other News (1)

marcello_dl (667940) | more than 2 years ago | (#36440522)

The absence of punctuation exists for a reason, too. It's usually called "the boss is approaching".

Google does not allow spidering of its own indexed stuff. Which makes a lot of sense, as they collected it, it's theirs. For the very same reason they should not spider what is behind a login prompt, no matter what the TFA says. I'm not saying they are doing it, but if they did, that would be terribly hypocrite.

FB and Google over our data are like hyena and leopard over a carcass.

Re:And In Other News (1)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 2 years ago | (#36438016)

>>>Who the fuck cares...

I care. I liked the author's suggestion of creating a Dummy Account, just so you can view yourself and see what's visible to strangers. Ideally nothing but your name, but who knows for sure? What exactly is visible to Google, Bing, and other search engines? I'd like to know.

Re:And In Other News (1)

anyGould (1295481) | more than 2 years ago | (#36438488)

>>>Who the fuck cares...

I care. I liked the author's suggestion of creating a Dummy Account, just so you can view yourself and see what's visible to strangers. Ideally nothing but your name, but who knows for sure? What exactly is visible to Google, Bing, and other search engines? I'd like to know.

I think the point was that making a Dummy Facebook Account is against the Terms of Use - so you can either risk your account or find out what Facebook is really sharing about you.

Obvious Solution Is Obvious - Facebook simply needs to supply a simple method for users to see what their "stranger" profile looks like. Tada.

Re:And In Other News (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36438544)

And they have that in the privacy settings. So what are you guys masturbating yourselves about again?

Re:And In Other News (2)

Alex Belits (437) | more than 2 years ago | (#36438794)

But Facebook does the opposite -- it even lies to the users. For example, if someone is blocked, and tries to look up the user who blocked him while logged in, Facebook will pretend that profile does not exist. Log out, and profile of blocking user is clearly visible again.

I consider this as a serious insult to the user.

Re:And In Other News (2)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 2 years ago | (#36439174)

I think the point was that making a Dummy Facebook Account is against the Terms of Use - so you can either risk your account or find out what Facebook is really sharing about you.

Well, I think I may need to create a dummy account just so I can violate their terms of service. I might even make it fairly obvious.

Except for specific instances, I bet if Facebook went through and tried to identify any profiles with invalid information ... they'd likely end up clearing out a vast amount of stuff. What fraction of Facebook information is real?

Re:And In Other News (2)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | more than 2 years ago | (#36441296)

Except for specific instances, I bet if Facebook went through and tried to identify any profiles with invalid information ... they'd likely end up clearing out a vast amount of stuff. What fraction of Facebook information is real?

For persons with the same name as me, there's not much real on Facebook. I made several accounts with my (somewhat unusual) name, all with throwaway email addresses and not much other information. This was to protect me against potential character smearing by someone creating a defamatory profile with my name. Now I can point out that there are dozens of "Ibrahim Chong O'Dwyer-Nguru" [not exactly my real name] profiles on FB, so if one of them is scurrilous, its content is unlikely to damage me.

I expect a significant fraction of FB accounts are bogus, or just have bogus content.

Re:And In Other News (1)

wvmarle (1070040) | more than 2 years ago | (#36446958)

Facebook probably secretly loves all those dummy/fake/unused/abandoned accounts. It increases the numbers. If say half the accounts is not used for whatever reason (a number that wouldn't surprise me), they would suddenly look a lot smaller. Still big, but not that big. And it'd have an impact on the company's market value.

Re:And In Other News (1)

Scarletdown (886459) | more than 2 years ago | (#36439344)

I think the point was that making a Dummy Facebook Account is against the Terms of Use - so you can either risk your account or find out what Facebook is really sharing about you.

It may be against the Terms of Service, but really, so what? How would Facebook's admin even know that you have a second account if they have completely different information?

The only way anyone would find out is if you yourself go blabbing everywhere that, "Hey! Check this out! I'm on Facebook as both dejathoris@helium.net and tarstarkas@thark.net and they are none the wiser. Hee hee. Isn't that cool?"

If you just keep quiet and don't have the two accounts interact, then everyone else will still think that one account is owned by a smokin' hot red skinned Barsoomian prinsess and the other is controlled by a powerful 8 foot tall, green skinned, 4 armed savage.

You should not be losing any sleep over giving the finger to any TOS details that are unreasonable and harm no one by breaking them.

Re:Accounts (1)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | more than 2 years ago | (#36439634)

I haven't revisited the signup TOS trends across the net in a while. I think there is another angle here on why creating spinoff accounts would be against TOS at all. After all, we have different email addresses and they keep trying to equate Facebook to All Thing InterTubez.

By this point I have a modest little net brand built under this handle. I found the other day that a different fellow seems to have borrowed it for FaceBook and Twitter and possibly Youtube. What effect does that have on the "dummy" account puzzle?

IRL got used to the 200 John Smiths, but on the net people seem to be more surprised to see handle duplication.

Re:And In Other News (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36440580)

Obvious Solution Is Obvious - Facebook simply needs to supply a simple method for users to see what their "stranger" profile looks like. Tada.

They already have that, dumbass. And captcha was 'hopeless'. How great.

Re:And In Other News (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36438558)

If you use facebook you obviously don't care about your personal information.

If you don't use facebook you don't have to worry about it sharing your personal information.

So that leads back to "who the f... cares?"

Re:And In Other News (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36440760)

Minor correction.

You obviously don't care about the personal information you give facebook.

Several of my facebook friends information pretty much matches their wikipedia entries. My cat shares more information than I do, but personally I would find identity theft of my cat amusing. (Either I have some notable friends, or wikipedia needs to revise their notability standards.)

Posting anonymously to keep the cat's facebook page from being deleted.)

Re:And In Other News (1)

Grygus (1143095) | more than 2 years ago | (#36444276)

Actually I would think that if you don't use Facebook then this article is even more applicable; his idea would allow you to use Google to find out what other people have revealed about you on Facebook, without ever needing a FB account yourself.

Re:And In Other News (2)

rojomojobojo (1844758) | more than 2 years ago | (#36439304)

i thought i saw a facebook option that is something like 'view your profile from X's view'. isnt this kind of the same thing?

Re:And In Other News (1)

caluml (551744) | more than 2 years ago | (#36439546)

I care. I liked the author's suggestion of creating a Dummy Account, just so you can view yourself and see what's visible to strangers. Ideally nothing but your name, but who knows for sure? What exactly is visible to Google, Bing, and other search engines? I'd like to know.

Why not let some strangers know your ID? And let them tell you? Maybe on some sort of forum. Such as Slashdot...?

Slashdot: The place where strangers exchange Facebook accounts to "nmap" their Facebook details.

Re:And In Other News (0)

rebelwarlock (1319465) | more than 2 years ago | (#36438172)

How is this insightful?

Re:And In Other News (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36440790)

1. Because TFS was written by frequent Slashdot annoyance, Bennett Haselton.
2. Because TFS admits that the accusation is unfounded (aka, FUD).
3. Because TFS is an attempt to raise an idiotic discussion about what Google should be doing wrt Facebook (seriously, who gives a shit).
4. Because Facebook and 'privacy' is an oxymoron.
5. Because even if Google did log into a Facebook account, there is still no reason to care.

Re:And In Other News (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36438420)

I DO!

I have a gmail account, but DO NOT have a facebook account. Nor do I want one. Despite my name being in my gmail address, I get NO SPAM. THAT would change if it got lumped into the facebook cesspool.

Re:And In Other News (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36440578)

I wish I could give you "thumb up" for this... :(

fuck you Bennett Haselton (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36437700)

+1 Troll

Obvious? (1)

Matthew Weigel (888) | more than 2 years ago | (#36437756)

Can't you just look at your Facebook settings to see what information is available to other people who are logged in to Facebook?

Re:Obvious? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36437806)

I thought Facebook had a "view your profile as..." and options being Friend, Facebook user, Public? I remember something like that back when I had an account. Did they remove it?

Re:Obvious? (1)

Nick Fel (1320709) | more than 2 years ago | (#36437858)

Yes. You can even preview your profile through the eyes of a non-friend or any one of your friends (though not friends of friends or people in your network, who might see more info than a total stranger). Most people won't know about this, due to Facebook's Byzantine privacy settings. But those people probably won't Google it either.

Re:Obvious? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36438318)

Byzantine privacy settings? Get over yourself. It's three clicks out from your home page. I don't know of a single page where it's any easier to see your privacy settings from. Facebook did their part, they can't be accountable for the kinds of morons who don't know how to even send someone a message with personal information instead of posting it on their wall.
 
What you're belly aching about is the same thing as the nanny state wanting to save us from ourselves. People are dumb, no one is ever 100% safe. Maybe that's a good thing.

Re:Obvious? (2)

protactin (206817) | more than 2 years ago | (#36438058)

Yes.

Privacy > Customise Settings > Preview my Profile [facebook.com] .

By default it shows what "most people" (i.e. strangers) see. You can then customise it for individual friends on your list.

Re:Obvious? (2)

Shimmer (3036) | more than 2 years ago | (#36438196)

> Can't you just look at your Facebook settings to see
> what information is available to other people who are
> logged in to Facebook?

Yes, if you trust Facebook to show you *exactly* what other people see. Personally, I would prefer a 3rd party to do this.

Give GOOG an account everywhere... (3, Insightful)

InsaneMosquito (1067380) | more than 2 years ago | (#36437772)

Using this logic, Google should be given an account to every forum, every blog, every tube site, every system with a login so that users can see if they are talked about some where on the internet. Sounds like a stupid idea. Why should they be able to log into Facebook when they can't log into that small little web forum?

Re:Give GOOG an account everywhere... (3, Insightful)

delinear (991444) | more than 2 years ago | (#36438148)

I guess because that small little forum is sharing your information with 12 other people and Facebook is sharing it with 600 million other people. The consequences of giving out more information than you intended are clearly much greater with the latter, although I don't know why this is supposed to be Google's responsibility rather than the individual user's.

Re:Give GOOG an account everywhere... (3, Informative)

recoiledsnake (879048) | more than 2 years ago | (#36438752)

Many of the types of sites you just mentioned allow the Google bot in without logging in, to drive hits.

Re:Give GOOG an account everywhere... (1)

ArchKaine (652697) | more than 2 years ago | (#36444748)

I think the key to preventing people from seeing too much of your information on Facebook, is not to provide that information in the first place. Problem solved.

My two cents, keep the change.

Re:Give GOOG an account everywhere... (1)

wvmarle (1070040) | more than 2 years ago | (#36446878)

Most of those forums require you to log in to be allowed to post. They generally do not give access to more personal information about users than what they give to a general visitor.

Facebook gives you access to more information about total strangers when you log in, compared to a visitor who is not logged in at all. That's the big difference. If Facebook would present the exact same information to a general visitor as to a logged in visitor without any connection to you, this whole article would have been moot.

Aren't most dummy accounts by definition? (2)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 2 years ago | (#36437792)

After all, many of them are just fake accounts to help generate credits for facebook games.

And then you have to add the multiple shill accounts that companies like my former employer, starmedia [starmedia.ca] created and used in what must be one of the lamer attempts to create "buzz".

Throw in the bot accounts, that you can get to "follow you" for under a penny a piece in bulk (search for "buy facebook fans" - another of their scummy practices that I had to laugh at)

Last, we have the "real dummy" accounts - you know, the ones that are used to post all sorts of inanities, and the reason why most facebook posts are never seen by human eyes.

Re:Aren't most dummy accounts by definition? (1, Funny)

Hatta (162192) | more than 2 years ago | (#36440142)

It's facebook. Even the accounts owned by real people are dummy accounts.

Robots (2)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | more than 2 years ago | (#36437924)

In that scenario, even if a document listed in robots.txt contains personal information about someone, there's no argument that "someone could find it anyway by searching, so Google is doing you a favor by listing it," because nobody would be able to find it by searching unless Google lists it.

Which is why you download robots.txt when you want to hack a site. Oh, look, this file contains the root password? ssh ... oh that worked. :D Yes this has happened a lot.

Re:Robots (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36448490)

Which is why you download robots.txt when you want to hack a site. Oh, look, this file contains the root password? ssh ... oh that worked. :D Yes this has happened a lot.

Read what you're quoting:

In that scenario, even if a document listed in robots.txt contains personal information about someone,

The scenario is that robots.txt says "Disallow: secret.html" or so, and secret.html contains personal information. Of course, by mentioning the document in robots.txt, you're already announcing its existence to the world, so even if you're trying to rely on obscurity (bad idea in itself, obviously), you're doing it wrong.

Google might not be doing it (1)

cshark (673578) | more than 2 years ago | (#36437940)

But I am. Have been for months.
It's fun and easy kicks for the whole family, and it sure beats going through the trouble of doing things properly.

You probably could do this using wget an a script (1)

cubicle (121759) | more than 2 years ago | (#36438112)

You probably could do this using wget an a script. Create a c script or a bash script. login into the account and spider passing the information through a grep pipe. You could probably mine a lot of data this way. I am not doing it or encouraging other to do this. I am concerned that information is this available and that it would be so easy to acquire. My advice if post only what you would say in a public auditorium. The fact a dumb ass like me can think this up means lots of people can and probably are data mining.

Re:You probably could do this using wget an a scri (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36438892)

I tried spidering FB just for the hell of it. Turns out if you exceed a certain rate you get throttled to hell and eventually errored.

Makes sense to me (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#36438280)

But if Google wants to help users discover what strangers can find out about them, then spidering Facebook with dummy accounts is exactly what they should be doing.

I may commit a crime and hurt people. So if government wants to prevent harm from my possibly criminal, future actions, then monitoring and controlling my actions and thoughts is exactly what they should be doing.

Re:Makes sense to me (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36438320)

If only making a bad analogy was considered a crime.

Re:Makes sense to me (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#36438894)

So what makes the analogy "bad"?

Re:Makes sense to me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36440290)

So what makes the analogy "bad"?

Okay, let's say you have a car--
Damn...

Re:Makes sense to me (2)

bigtone78 (943249) | more than 2 years ago | (#36438566)

Good point! But at least people aren't stupid enough to enter every detail of their life into a massive database that could describe the network of people that you associate with, along with photos of you and said people. Or couple such information to their portable GPS enabled electronic devices that can be remotely enabled and tracked at any point in time. That would just be stupid! Who would do that! BTW whats your facebook name I'll hit you up from my phones facebook app!

Logical fallacy (5, Insightful)

fusiongyro (55524) | more than 2 years ago | (#36438300)

If a certain fact about you — for example, the members of your Facebook friends list — is viewable to anyone with a Facebook account as long as they're logged in to Facebook, then anybody in the world can obtain that information about you anyway, by getting their own Facebook account. So it's perfectly legitimate for Google to report that as a fact that anyone can find about you, if you Google your own name.

There's a jump here: that just because anyone with a Facebook account can find this fact about you, this justifies anyone at all finding you on Facebook just because they're using Google.

I see two ways to support this notion. The first is that Google has a right to presume that you have your own Facebook account, or are willing to get one to view a search result. The second is that information that is available to anybody with an account on a site ought to be considered public. In other words, either there is something special about Facebook, or there is no difference between restricting something to a huge group that it is easy to join and not restricting it at all.

While I agree with the author that it could help expose Facebook's failure to protect users' privacy, I don't think I feel strongly enough about that to grant either form of the supposition that public in Facebook is equivalent to public. Facebook is not a public utility. I deleted my account, as can anyone else (provided you follow their rather arcane instructions). And I don't want Google to have some kind of "information imminent domain" right that makes it OK for them to anonymously spider sites that require login from everyone else. Google is also not a public utility.

The solution to Facebook sucking should not be granting unnecessary power to Google.

Re:Logical fallacy (1)

microbee (682094) | more than 2 years ago | (#36438732)

There's a jump here: that just because anyone with a Facebook account can find this fact about you, this justifies anyone at all finding you on Facebook just because they're using Google.

Just because you have a browser and CAN find any pages publicly viewable as long as you know where their URLs, doesn't justify Google presenting them in your search results in a convenient way.

See the jump here?

Re:Logical fallacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36439214)

No jump, just a slippery slope

People are OK with Google presents one type of information - search results of sites accessible by simply knowing the URL (so any site that requires a log in like Facebook isn't part of it) - in a convenient way

Slippery slope: people should be OK with Google presenting ANY other type of information in a convenient way

Re:Logical fallacy (1)

he-sk (103163) | more than 2 years ago | (#36439528)

I don't think I feel strongly enough about that to grant either form of the supposition that public in Facebook is equivalent to public. Facebook is not a public utility. I deleted my account, as can anyone else (provided you follow their rather arcane instructions). And I don't want Google to have some kind of "information imminent domain" right that makes it OK for them to anonymously spider sites that require login from everyone else. Google is also not a public utility.

I feel differently, once it's on Facebook, it's essentially in the public record. My reasoning is that deleting your account only stops someone from scraping your (previously available) information in the future. Before you deleted your account anyone could have accessed your data, thus you have already lost control over it.

One might make the distinction between information viewable to "Facebook strangers", i.e. the public part of Facebook, and information shared with your friends. The problem with that argument is that Facebook in the past has on its own accord changed the distinction between the public and private parts of Facebook. More and more data has become publicly viewable, leading me to the conclusion that Facebook wants that information public. But they also want to restrict accessibility. That's a contradiction, it seems.

Re:Logical fallacy (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | more than 2 years ago | (#36440086)

One might make the distinction between information viewable to "Facebook strangers", i.e. the public part of Facebook, and information shared with your friends. The problem with that argument is that Facebook in the past has on its own accord changed the distinction between the public and private parts of Facebook. More and more data has become publicly viewable, leading me to the conclusion that Facebook wants that information public. But they also want to restrict accessibility. That's a contradiction, it seems.

Not really.

Facebook wants information on everybody. The only way to get information on everybody is to have everybody put up that information. But some people feel their information shouldn't go to "everybody", so Facebook puts up paper walls to give people the illusion of privacy, so they would feel more comfortable putting their stuff up.

And yes, privacy settings are an illusion - once it's posted, it's really available for the whole world to see thank to re-tweets, re-posts, and all sorts of other things. This has been the case since people went online with ancient 120 baud modems.

Facebook's about-face with privacy settings really just makes it more clear that really, whatever you post is available to everyone eventually. The only way to ensure your privacy is to not post it up in the first place.

Re:Logical fallacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36440188)

Thing is, it is not public record. Facebook still has control over the information. They can, as you pointed out, change what is or is not public on their own accord if they want to. In other words, a private party can on a whim alter/block what is supposed to be public record.

I see it this way: you gave your email to Company A, and Company A asks "hey, can we share this info to 3rd parties for marketing purposes?". If you said yes, expect to see junk and spam from Company B, which got your email from Company A. Key thing here is Company A has some sort of agreement to sharing that information to company B. If Company A doesn't like Company C, for whatever reason, Company A does not have to share with Company C.

The fact Facebook (Company A) has really shoddy protection on said information and that almost anybody with access can just re-post that information is a separate issue.

Re:Logical fallacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36439740)

I think it has to do with facebook's origins - when facebook was only for people with .edu addresses, then you could make an argument that "facebook stranger" was actually different than "google stranger", as they had to have a real (and verifiable) personal college email address linked to it. That's a very different thing than "anyone with a gmail account can see it", which is what it is now.

Re:Logical fallacy (1)

Zephyr14z (907494) | more than 2 years ago | (#36441960)

While you do need an account, there are no restrictions on who can have one, making it still essentially public information. There's only about a 2 minute inconvenience of account creation to gain access to the site.

Re:Logical fallacy (1)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 2 years ago | (#36443760)

While you do need an account, there are no restrictions on who can have one,

There is. Sock puppets aren't allowed by the T&C's. That doesn't mean it's easily enforceable, but the restrictions are there. Moreover, not being easily enforceable against all transgressors in the world is one thing, it may well be easily enforeable against a single transgressor (ie Google in this case).

This is what Google should be focussing on (2)

bogaboga (793279) | more than 2 years ago | (#36438312)

I mean...They (Google), should be focussing on marketing their services in authentication using OAuth [oauth.net] .

As it stands now, what I see are more and more websites asking potential contributors to use Facebook, Yahoo, AOL or Hotmail. As for Google, it's no where to be seen!

One wonders whether Google is just a sleeping giant or whether these sites are engaged in a conspiracy to sideline Google.

Re:This is what Google should be focussing on (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36441810)

I don't follow - what websites are you seeing asking potential contributors to use Facebook etc? News sites? Blogs? Businesses? Random websites? Advertisements?

Re:This is what Google should be focussing on (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36443218)

Techcrunch [techcrunch.com] is one of them.

That's a mighty big "if" (1)

Chelloveck (14643) | more than 2 years ago | (#36438348)

[...] if Google wants to help users discover what strangers can find out about them [...]

IF that's what Google wants to do, sure. But why on Earth would Google want to do that?

Re:That's a mighty big "if" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36438662)

AdSense. They can sell more targeted advertising to you.

If they can obtain more targeted information regarding you that would (by default) add value to their Ad services then it is probably a safe bet they are doing this. You being able to search this same information is strictly corollary.

All of facebook should be spidered (1)

jaymz666 (34050) | more than 2 years ago | (#36438586)

It's impressive how annoyingly hard it is to find older information someone on your friend list can be to find.
Imagine "site:facebook.com weiner joke" returning results from your friend stream from facebook, assuming you login to facebook using the same account you login to google with.

Why only Google and Facebook? (1)

houghi (78078) | more than 2 years ago | (#36438800)

What about not Google, but Bing? And what about not Facebook, but any other site where you need to login to see content like a bank?

And if Google and Bing, what about the government of the USofA? China? Or what about you and me?

Re:Why only Google and Facebook? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36442258)

Except once Google gets it, Bing will have it shortly thereafter.

Re:Why only Google and Facebook? (1)

wvmarle (1070040) | more than 2 years ago | (#36446976)

What about not Google, but Bing? And what about not Facebook, but any other site where you need to login to see content like a bank?

What bank are you using that allows you to see personal information of OTHER account holders (not yourself) after you log in?

Here's the TL;DR version... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36438830)

As usual, Mr. Haselton uses many words when fewer would suffice. As a public service, here is his essay shortened to its essentials. I've tried to be as fair as possible to his main argument (which, really, can be summarized in a single sentence):

Facebook recently hired a PR firm to smear Google [wsj.com] . The allegation was that Google created fake Facebook accounts so that it could crawl and index profiles. There is no evidence [stevenlevy.com] for these allegations. Regardless, would Google doing so really be a bad thing? It would violate the TOS, but could actually be a boon to privacy. The reason is simple: it would allow users an easy way to determine how much of the information on their Facebook profile is available to anyone with a Facebook account. Thus, this kind of indexing would empower users to make smarter privacy choices.

Facebook and google's users are different (1)

clintp (5169) | more than 2 years ago | (#36438970)

When you search for a person's name on Google, you might be looking for information about that person, or you might be doing research on what other people in the world can find about that person (particularly if that person is yourself). If a certain fact about you — for example, the members of your Facebook friends list — is viewable to anyone with a Facebook account as long as they're logged in to Facebook, then anybody in the world can obtain that information about you anyway, by getting their own Facebook account.

Minor nit here. I think the author assumes that anyone that can use Google to obtain information can also legitimately use Facebook to obtain the same information. Except this isn't true. There are people who aren't allowed to use Facebook in any form: those under 13 and those that have had their Facebook accounts disabled for violations of TOS. An argument could be made that Google is making information available to those who are legally not permitted to have it since Google makes no such distinctions.

Re:Facebook and google's users are different (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36439890)

> available to those who are legally not permitted to have it

There is no question or issue of legality here. The "law" has nothing to say about barring certain people from seeing Facebook information.

Perhaps Facebook wishes to prevent it, but it's nothing to do with "legality".

Re:Facebook and google's users are different (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36441164)

An argument could be made that Google is making information available to those who are legally not permitted to have it since Google makes no such distinctions.

That seems like a very weak argument.

Suppose Google makes users check a box certifying that they are not a minor and did not violate Facebook's TOS. Does the fact that they only show results to people who checked a box make the people who oppose this happy? You might argue that checking a box is no barrier, because anyone can lie. However, it is just as easy to lie when creating a fake Facebook account.

Logging in? Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36439282)

Why should they log in if they can get all the information anyway. Isn't it much more troubling how many data you can get without an account?

Disagree (2)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 2 years ago | (#36439538)

Google should not be spidering private Facebook information. Now I'd love nothing more than to shock Facebooktards with a summary of how much info they're spilling, but my reason for disagreeing has nothing to do with that.

Private Facebook data shouldn't be indexed for the same reason info behind a paywall shouldn't be indexed. Because it's information that the organization doesn't want to make available to non-members. And on the Internet, the price of exclusivity should be obscurity. It would just be false advertising (benefiting only the content provider) and a disservice to searchers otherwise, like showing a paywalled news article in a search result.

Also the price for presenting useless information should also be obscurity. A facebook teaser page that says "look, we found the person you're looking for! Just sign up to get access!" is useless info, and like the various content farming sites, should likewise be relegated to the later pages of search results with the other low-relevance junk.

Facebook's response (1)

KPU (118762) | more than 2 years ago | (#36439738)

Facebook's response was to ask Google users for their passwords in order to scrape e-mail contacts in violation of Google's TOS. Oh wait.

Google Page page on Facebook? (1)

jdkramar (803337) | more than 2 years ago | (#36439760)

Google has a "Page" on Facebook, so presumably they have some "dummy" account that whoever manages that page logs into to use. They probably just left that session open on a spiderbot server on "accident" and ended up spidering Facebook with a "dummy" account!

Uh, no. (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 2 years ago | (#36440122)

Paradoxically, rather than hurting user privacy, it would have helped to protect user privacy in the long run if Google actually had been logging in to Facebook, spidering the information that was available to members, and making that information available in Google search results.

I wouldn't have to lock my door if you and others like you would stop breaking in then telling me I should lock it.

Search Results (1)

HaZardman27 (1521119) | more than 2 years ago | (#36440550)

What could this potentially do to search results? I don't want dozens of hits from random Facebook walls popping up in search results, just because there was a post about something I'm searching for.

Exclusive access for Facebook not your privacy (1)

erice (13380) | more than 2 years ago | (#36441230)

Since Facebook will give an account to anybody, there is no privacy difference for the user between "everybody with a Facebook account" and "everyone with or without a Facebook account" However, for Facebook itself there is a difference. If they allow Google to spider and publish "public" data then Facebook loses their exclusive right to profit from user supplied data. Facebook has an economic interest in making as much data as possible public but not accessible to Google.

They're confusing Google with me and the FBI (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 2 years ago | (#36441814)

You shouldn't blame Google for the large numbers of fake FB accounts - it's mostly the FBI and people like myself who are doing oppo research on campaigns that do this.

FB needs to wake up and realize very few FB people are real.

a pretty big if... (1)

shish (588640) | more than 2 years ago | (#36443450)

if Google wants to help users discover what strangers can find out about them

Why would google want to do this? They're a search / advertising company - making people nervous about privacy issues helps neither

Serious Question - Who is asking for this?? (1)

brunes69 (86786) | more than 2 years ago | (#36443566)

Seriously.

Has anyone actually asked for Google to search their friend's facebook updates?

When I am looking for information on Google, the ABSOLUTE LAST THING I want it to return is a bunch more blog spam crap about useless regurgitated information, or requests to buy corn for their farm.

I don't get this whole "social search" trend going on. Am I the only one who really does not give a crap what my Facebook or Twitter friends are looking at? If I wanted to look at it, I would have clicked it when it showed up in my update stream. I don't need to cluttering up my search results.

Google is not a human being (1)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 2 years ago | (#36443984)

The main philosophical problem I have with this kind of argument is that Google is being treated as a human being. The argument goes, any human being could do such and such, therefore Google should be allowed to do it too.

Well, I disagree. Google isn't a human being, it's a rich collective whose sole purpose for existence is profit. It's a tool of its shareholders. Does it make sense to afford the rights and privileges of a human being to a tool? Should cars be allowed to vote in presidential elections? No, and no. Even people don't all have the same rights and privileges: Citizens can vote, foreigners can't.

So it doesn't matter if *anyone* could create a dummy account and manually collect data on strangers, Google isn't *anyone*, it is a tool, and different rules *should* naturally apply. Comparing its behaviour with that of ordinary human beings is apples and oranges.

TFA is wrong, you CAN preview "stranger" profile (1)

matthewv789 (1803086) | more than 2 years ago | (#36444472)

If you are editing your Facebook privacy settings, there is a button to "Preview My Profile", which will show "how your profile looks to most people on Facebook".

You can also see how it looks to a particular person.

Has been done already (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36446058)

http://openbook.org/

Check before you bash (1)

magnus_1986 (841154) | more than 2 years ago | (#36447220)

Has anyone ever gone to the privacy settings tab and used the "what my profile looks like to X" feature? The author of this piece as well as everyone here should do that. No need to violate TOS etc etc etc. Just go to that page and it shows how your profile is visible to Friends of Friends, etc. You can even type in the name of a person and see how it looks like to them.

Not easily found but possible already. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36461298)

For that matter, it's not that easy to view your own "stranger Facebook profile" on Facebook, to see for yourself what other users can see about you.

It may not be easy, but it is possible.

Go to:
            - Account
            - Privacy settings
            - Click 'view settings' (in the Connecting with Facebook section)
            - Click 'Preview my profile' (top right)

That shows you the public view, and from there you can also see what other friends see when they look at your profile.

Certainly not intuitive (or easily discoverable). But possible.

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