Feeds

How to sniff out private information on Facebook

Social network makes it a snap

Using blade systems to cut costs and sharpen efficiencies

Facebook users who like to control who gets to see your account details, take note: political views, religious back ground and other sensitive details may be wide open to prying eyes even though you've configured your profile so its viewable only to designated friends.

That's because the user setting that allows only designated friends to view a user's profile has no effect on whether the contents of that profile can be searched by the Facebook community at large. Users who want to block their profiles from being searched must go through an additional step.

It's hard to imagine why someone would want to block strangers from reading their profile and at the same time opt to have their profile contents searchable by any Facebook user. And it's even harder to understand why Facebook search by default indexes profile contents, rather than the other way around.

But that's the way Facebook has been doing things since at least September, according to Chris Soghoian, a graduate student at Indiana University who blogs about the quirk here.

"Users cannot be expected to know that the contents of their private profiles can be mined via searches, and thus, very few do set the search permissions associated with their profile," Soghoian writes.

Soghoian's observation is one more example how digital information presumed innocuous can come back to bite us in the ass. As employers, co-workers and others get wise to the trove of personal details volunteered on MySpace, LiveJournal and elsewhere, it pays to think before posting. Or in the case of Facebook, to pay close attention to privacy settings.

To demonstrate, Soghoian created an account for an individual named "Chris Privacy Soghoian" whose politics are socially conservative, lists his religious background as Catholic and claims to live in London. While the account is set so only friends can view the profile, anyone who puts "Chris Privacy Soghoian" and "Christian - Catholic" into the advanced search engine (and evidently, who belongs to one of Soghoian's networks) will get a result showing a match.

For more than 24 hours Facebook representatives maintained radio silence in response to a call and email from us asking about the design of their privacy settings. That left us wondering aloud in a previous version of this story if we'd have been better off searching through their profiles.

On late Wednesday, a spokeswoman finally emailed to say the company has updated its advanced search function so that profile information designated private will no longer be included in search results. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Secure microkernel that uses maths to be 'bug free' goes open source
Hacker-repelling, drone-protecting code will soon be yours to tweak as you see fit
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
Israel's Iron Dome missile tech stolen by Chinese hackers
Corporate raiders Comment Crew fingered for attacks
Roll out the welcome mat to hackers and crackers
Security chap pens guide to bug bounty programs that won't fail like Yahoo!'s
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
Researcher sat on critical IE bugs for THREE YEARS
VUPEN waited for Pwn2Own cash while IE's sandbox leaked
Four fake Google haxbots hit YOUR WEBSITE every day
Goog the perfect ruse to slip into SEO orfice
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.