Thursday the news broke that security expert Ron Bowes created a Web crawler that successfully -- and legally -- harvested information from the Facebook profiles of 100 million of the social-networking site's users. He then uploaded it to popular file-sharing site The Pirate Bay. According to Daily Tech, the file had been downloaded or uploaded by about 13,000 Pirate Bay users at press time.
Daily Tech indicates the file includes such details as name, profile URL, and unique user ID for each person affected. Bowes has said he created the file to highlight the social network's privacy issues. However, Facebook has no problem with the fact that the information is available on a file-sharing site. In a statement, Facebook told BBC News:
In this case, information that people have agreed to make public was collected by a single researcher and already exists in Google, Bing, other search engines, as well as on Facebook... No private data is available or has been compromised.
Others aren't so sure the file doesn't represent a huge privacy violation. For instance, Privacy International's Simon Davies says Bowes' actions constitute "an attack" that Facebook should have expected and taken steps to prevent. He argues that if Facebook users really understood the site's privacy settings, most wouldn't have made the information available.
He may have a point. A new study out of Northwestern University found that collge freshmen, most of whom have grown up with Internet access, may not be as tech savvy as most of us think. Read Write Web reports:
Apparently, the students favor search engine rankings above all other factors. The only thing that matters is that something is the top search result, not that it's legit...In fact, a quarter of the students, when assigned information-seeking tasks, said they chose a website because - and only because - it was the first search result. Only 10 percent of the students made mention of the site's author or that author's credentials while completing tasks.
If they trust search engines that much, who's to say a significant portion of them don't trust Facebook in a similar way, or that they simply don't think about how easily their "public" information can be accessed.
For those who want to make sure their information cannot be acccessed by Web crawlers like the one Bowes created, Daily Tech's Jason Mick explains:
To manually opt out of being search-engine indexed go to Account > Privacy Settings > Applications, Games, and Websites (link near the bottom, in a box) > Public Search > (Uncheck box).