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28 July 2010, 13:54

Facebook crawler collects more than 170 million data sets

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Facebook Logo For users who elect to make their Facebook profiles public (under "Facebook privacy settings/Search/Public Search"), Facebook creates a preview version of their profile that's accessible to anyone. The social networking site then provides a directory of these users at It's freely accessible to anyone, including search engines like Google, which make the publicly accessible data searchable.

Hacker Ron Bowes has written a web crawler which he used to systematically graze through this data. Bowes claims to have collected more than 170 million sets of data containing the names and URLs of public profiles. The files do not contain any further personal data such as friend lists, but the links in the profiles can easily be used to send out another crawler to collect this information. Bowes has formatted the list and, together with the crawler itself, made it available as a 2.8 GB torrent.

Although initially the sheer size of the data is impressive, it does not actually illustrate a failure by the social networking site. This is in contrast to a similar case involving SchülerVZ, from which, it was announced in October 2009, a million sets of data had been siphoned off. Unlike Facebook, SchülerVZ does not have public profiles, and that attack originated from within the network. Every Facebook user should, however, be aware that Facebook makes their public profile accessible to anyone, unless they take steps to prevent it. Facebook's privacy policy is available from its web site.

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