What Facebook Hath Wrought

What Facebook Hath Wrought

So, like many librarians, I have a facebook profile. It doesn’t tell you all that much about me on the public face, and all that it does tell you is quite deliberately public information. However, we know that there are always issues with social networking sites because of third parties swooping in and abusing that database for alternative purposes. Check this out: a place I’ve never heard of called Bigsight.org scooped my information and created a webpage for me. It snagged my facebook profile picture to pretty it up, too. They’re not just stealing it from facebook, which would at least just be the sin of stealing bandwidth; they actually stole the image and resaved it (creating a new instance).

Another example of why it’s important to be extraordinarily careful what information you add to social networking sites, and how public you make it.

0 thoughts on “What Facebook Hath Wrought

  1. Hi Rochelle, I’m one of the developers of bigsight and found your entry via my Google Alerts.

    Like you say, we’re just grabbing what’s available to any search engine out there. We make it easy to remove the profile page, but the great thing is that a lot of people keep and expand their profiles because they show up high on Google.

    You already have a good web presence, but your bigsight placeholder page is #6 on Google for your name! For people who no web presence, it’s an easy way to get their name up there.

  2. “It’s okay for me to do it because you can tell me to stop!” Not my idea of ethical. Possible? Sure. Ethical? No. I don’t mind leaving it in place so people can see what kind of unethical behaviour happens online.

  3. Hi Rochelle,

    I’m the other founder of bigsight and wanted to chime in as well given that we take these issues quite seriously. I’m going to push back on you a small bit, but I fully acknowledge that there are some unresolved issues on the web right now re: this issue…largely due to the fact that people don’t realize that so much information is out there about them.

    1. We didn’t obtain your information from facebook.com. We obtained it through a cached (re-saved) version of your public profile on Google: http://www.google.com/search?q=rochelle+mazar+facebook&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a. We offer full attribution to Facebook as the source and are very clear in where the information was obtained and our purposes in doing so. So we made a copy of a copy and attributed the original source.

    2. You have the power to turn off your Facebook public profile. As long as it is out there, various sites will aim to leverage that information (in either “good” or “bad” ways). If you look around, you’ll notice that your public information (LinkedIn, other sites, etc.) has been aggregated on numerous sites like Wink.com, Naymz.com, and Zoominfo.com. We are in an age of aggregation right now and “non-notable” individuals such as us will become increasingly “notable” on the web.

    3. I’m not sure that calling what we are doing “unethical” is actually fair. On what grounds? Ben and I are probably more versed on the FB Terms of Service than most people out there, and we’re aren’t violating them. Furthermore, we do offer a quick delete option that one would be hard pressed to find on other sites. The thing that I will give you is that we thought long and hard about this and still aren’t sure it is a great move. On the one hand, we aren’t violating any Terms and are legitimately reserving valuable web positioning for a potential user; however, on the other hand, many people a) don’t realize they have public facebook profiles and b) find it somewhat shocking when they see their bigsight placeholder page towards the top of Google. Consider this, for instance: let’s say that I was hired to set up a public social network around a controversial site (let’s say it’s an adult dating site). I theoretically could do the same thing with your facebook data and use the same argument that I’m just making it easier for people to join this new site; however, this definitely moves closer to “questionable” given that no where in your public information would you offer any indication that you had any interest in such an activity or valued such things. With bigsight.org, however, it is simply a directory and it is organized around lasting elements (schools, industries, cities) that aren’t tied to any specific opinions or value judgments. As such, we ultimately feel comfortable doing aggregation on this level and have been very excited to see how many people have not only taken advantage of it, but have thanked us for making it so easy for them.

    All this said, thank you for participating in the conversation. We’re not sure we’re right and it’s good to keep talking with people about this.


  4. Just because something is available online doesn’t mean it’s available for stealing. This is a basic principle you should probably stop to read about and understand.

    Unless you’d be okay with me taking your logo (it’s available online!) and using it on “bigsite.org” where people can create their own beautiful profiles. Would that be okay with you? I presume not. You took my picture (among those of many others, persumably) and resaved it under space of your own control. You republished something that’s my property, not only without my permission, but without even requesting my permission. By policy! You might want to have a cursory look at copyright laws in your country and not just facebook terms of use. Access =/= ownership. Opt out is not good enough. Unless you think I can go into a bookstore, scan all their books and put them online, giving the authors the option to opt out if they don’t want me to make their work available (once they find out about what I’ve done of course). It’s just not on.

    Additionally, you’re basically peer pressuring me into using your service. Oh look, it’s the 6th hit on google! You’d better sign up, or a random company will be representing you! It’s pretty slimy.

    You’re also seriously uglifying google results, cluttering up a search with a bunch of commercial nonsense. I’d say you’re gaming google.

    Anyway I don’t really care how high up a hit is on a search. I’m not really in the business of marketing myself. But your company is acting as a perfect example of the abuse of personal information on the internet, so I have no intention of requesting that you remove it. You want to use my public information to game the system, I want to use your public actions in teach information literacy.

  5. Rochelle. I fully agree with you. As someone who has thought a lot, and published a bit, on the issue of the protection of personal information online, I don’t find bigsight troubling. I find it completely problematic. They are hijacking personal information for their own gain under the guise of affording social networking possibilities. From what I can tell. Of course I am referring to what the site appears to be doing and I do not intend to impinge on the intention of the people involved. Perhaps it is merely innocent ignorance of the unproblematized? It is beyond unethical, however. It reminds me of someone stealing someone’s identity and using that information for profit, and then, as a defense, saying “Well, you never told me I couldn’t.” It has been proven that personal information has financial value, and that identity theft costs real dollars. Though Bigsight is not pretending to be rochelle, they are pretending, no matter how they slice it, that they have the right to present or re-present, or re-create, rochelle’s identity online for their own personal profit. Sounds about as shady as it gets without being actually illegal. IMHO of course.

  6. Oh oh I guess Bigsight.org poached the wrong profile didnt they? Never *ever* mess with a librarian when it comes to digigital copyright issues :- )

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