A new website is exposing embarrassing and potentially job-threatening Facebook messages posted by users who probably don’t realize their privacy settings are turned off.
There are posts with people brazenly admitting to playing hooky from work and others pull no punches in making fun of their bosses. Some are of a very personal nature, falling into the category of too much information. The founders of FacebookSearch, which started Thursday, say they have no malicious intentions and simply hope to show naive Facebook users that there are real consequences to not guarding their privacy online.
“Facebook privacy has been gradually eroding . . . and I try to tell my friends, ‘Hey, you’ve got to be careful. Basically, unless you go through all these byzantine steps, your stuff is public,” said Will Moffat, a 29-year-old programmer from San Francisco. “You tell people but they just don’t get it and so I thought we’ve got to come up with a way to really show people something they can actually understand.”
While the Facebook data isn’t searchable through Google, the site lists users who have their profiles and status updates open to the public. Anyone could search for the users by name and read everything they’ve posted. Facebook has more than 400 million members and spokespeople have said in the past that Canada is one of its largest markets on a per-capita basis. It didn’t take long to find Canadians on FacebookSearch, most of whom declined interview requests.
One woman in Montreal has for months posted disparaging messages about her boss and her attempts to find another job. “When oh when is my boss going to retire????!!!!!!!!!!!!” she posted to the world in April, “(I don’t) like the mean lady at verk,” she wrote a week later. Last week, she complained again about her boss in a status update punctuated by profanities.
Mathieu Youdan of Vancouver also appears on the site slagging his boss but he wasn’t overly disturbed to learn his message had gone public. Youdan, 20, had already limited his privacy risks somewhat by using a variation of his real name on his Facebook profile, so only his real friends could search for him. He also said he only posts things that he’d be equally comfortable saying in public — including criticisms of his boss.
“I’m not really defaming the company if I say something personal about my boss,” Youdan said. “I might be insulting my boss online but if I have a problem with him I can take it up personally as well. I can talk with him, I prefer to be open about my work.” But he did change his privacy options after realizing his words were going outside his circle of friends, which was never his intention.
Moffat acknowledged he and his partner Peter Burns had an ethical dilemma in going public with the site but decided it was for the greater good. “We think basically if we don’t do it then someone else is going to do it and they’re going to do it much worse than what we’re doing,” he said.
“A few people have accused us of being as a big a jerk as (Facebook founder Mark) Zuckerberg, which I can see where they’re coming from, and it certainly kind of hurts because people could get fired or have relationship problems after this. “I hope the publicity will cause Facebook to improve their user interface because ultimately, people just don’t realize what they’re doing. And if we can’t move Facebook, maybe we can at least educate users to change their privacy settings.”
Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said in January that she was launching an investigation into Facebook after a user complained that updates to its privacy practices made personal information more readily available than before.
Stoddart had previously investigated Facebook in 2009 over other privacy concerns.