Facebook Privacy Tip


Kieran Healy and Kevin Drum point to the existence of a site that exposes just how public your “private” information on Facebook is.  Kevin:

Making use of a public programming interface that Facebook released a few weeks ago, three programmers in San Francisco wrote Openbook, a website that searches Facebook profiles for — well, for anything you want. Because I’m basically a nice guy, I’ve illustrated this with a relatively innocuous search for “rectal exam” and then blurred out the results. But other popular searches include “playing hooky,” “boss is an asshole,” and so forth.

The site’s authors state their “goal is to get Facebook to restore the privacy of this information, so that this website and others like it no longer work.”  Kevin adds,

All the charts and graphs and blog posts in the world don’t bring home just how public your Facebook information is the way this does. So show it to your friends! And if you want to make sure that your random musings aren’t available to, say, your boss or your teachers, here’s a tool that checks your Facebook privacy settings and lets you know if you should think about changing them.

All this is well and good but, although there are many reasons to hate Facebook, I’m not sure that this is one of them.  For one thing, this is actually information that people are putting on their public profiles, not a flaw in Facebook’s privacy settings.

Regardless, I hereby offer — free of charge! — a non-technological solution to this problem:

Do not broadcast news of your rectal exams, your misdeeds, or negative opinions about your boss on social media sites!

Quaint, I know, but it’s been guaranteed to protect your privacy every time it’s tried.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He's a widower and father of two young daughers. He earned his PhD from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. rodney dill says:

    news of rectal exams is the only thing I put ON facebook.


  2. JKB says:

    Seems to me that people who post these details on Facebook have forgotten or don’t know about the benefits of plausible deniability. In the past, you would rant about your boss or reveal your rectal exam to a few friends or coworkers. Who would commiserate with you then promptly forget about it. Or they might start gossiping about you. In any case, it was your word against theirs with no documents to confirm. Now it is their in black and white with your name attached to it. Not only for all to see but as digital evidence.

    Society works on what I call polite ignorance. We want to know the persona of the person we’re interacting with not every facet. When working with Mary down a the church bazar, you don’t really want know that she loves anal and has rape fantasies. Not unless Mary is really a friend. Otherwise, she’s the nice lady who helps out the church. You don’t want or need to know the intimate details to enjoy working with Mary down at the church.

    “How I Met Your Mother” had a storyline about how everyone has baggage as they go through life. Facebook lets a person become defined by their baggage but also pops the lock strewing dirty underwear all over the baggage carousel but on an eternal loop that displays it all for every one who comes along, forever.