An online security consultant has compiled information from the profiles of 100 million Facebook users and published it in a database downloadable and searchable by anyone online.
Ron Bowes, who blogs at Skull Security, used information that Facebook users had set to "public" and therefore, was already available to anyone who tried to search for it. The news has generated a lot of attention and alarmed many who use the popular social networking site, which hit 500 million users this summer.
Bowes told Consumer Ally that he wrote a script to parse data publicly accessible through Facebook's directory and put that information in a "user-readable" format.
Joseph Turow, a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, said what Bowes did should not surprise anyone. He described the situation as a cautionary tale about online privacy.
"The concern about whether this is a big deal or not highlights again that people have to confront what it means to do things in the digital environment," Turow told Consumer Ally. " My general rule is that everything you put online is public and you really shouldn't put anything online that you wouldn't want your boss to see."
Andrew Noyes, spokesman for Facebook, stressed that the data available in the file was "very limited and only includes names and links to user's profiles.
"In this case, information that people have agreed to make public was collected by a single researcher," Noyes said in a statement emailed to Consumer Ally. "This information already exists in Google, Bing, other search engines, as well as on Facebook. No private data is available or has been compromised."
Noyes compared the information from Facebook that is publicly available to the white pages of a phone book that is "information available to enable people to find each other, which is the reason people join Facebook."
He also noted that Facebook offers privacy controls so someone can choose not to appear in the site's search or other search engines.
Turow said everyone who uses the web should always be mindful of the possibility that at any given time anyone could see information about you, whether you want them to or not.
"Don't treat the Internet as if it's your playground," he said. "Treat it as a public space."
100 million Facebook profiles compiled and made public