Facebook public search generates criticism from campus

By Brittany Abeijon

In a few weeks, Facebook, an international social networking Web site, will be more accessible by millions of Internet users.

Facebook user profiles will be widely available and accessible through public search engines like Google, MSN Live and Yahoo.

Devised by Harvard dropout Mark Zuckerberg, the site now accounts for 1 percent of all net traffic and is the sixth most visited site in the U.S., according to the BBC News Web site.

Philip Fung, a Facebook engineer, created a blog entry on Sept. 6 describing the reasons Facebook decided to allow public search listings containing user names, current profile picture and contact information.

“We think this will help more people connect and find value from Facebook without exposing any actual profile information or data,” Fung wrote.

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Users can freely change their privacy settings and restrict their profiles from search engines outside of Facebook, unless their privacy settings are set to be viewed by “everyone.”

Facebook has not announced a specific date that the public search listings will be available and could not be reached for comment.

Om Malik, publisher of GigaOm.com, a San Francisco-based technology news site, said this move transforms Facebook from being a social network to a “quasi-White Pages of the Web.”

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

Amanda Sanchez, senior in Business, deactivated her Facebook account at the beginning of the fall semester before the public search plans were announced.

Sanchez said many students are job searching, attending career fairs, and scheduling interviews for prospective jobs at this time of year.

“I don’t want businesses accessing public information about my recreation. I’d rather have a job when I graduate,” Sanchez said. “If people do not restrict their privacy settings, then coming soon to an office near you are some really embarrassing job interviews.”

Damian Lay, assistant director at the University’s Career Center, thinks most students do not realize that many businesses check a prospective employee’s Facebook account and use it to justify decisions about them.

“Students must be careful with any content they put online whether it’s Facebook, MySpace or an online blog,” Lay said. “Especially with profile pictures because that is one of the main things that appear in a search like Google.”

In addition to all the services they offer, the Career Center is willing to offer students information on how to protect their job interests online, including through its own Facebook profile, TheCareercenter UIllinois.

A student can still appear in a professional manner without deactivating Facebook if they monitor their content and present themselves as professional in their profile picture, he said.

“I have read reports on people who have not gotten hired based on negative or inappropriate content that appeared on their Facebook page,” Lay said. “This goes for any information on the Web; keep it appropriate.”