Facebook is now giving members the option to make their profiles searchable (see Techmeme for the various viewpoints on the news). In effect, your Facebook profile can be injected into the Web at large and non-members can see portions of Facebook profiles. This news isn't surprising. Facebook is spreading out its tentacles and gaining more traffic via search engines.
As Om Malik suggests, it is only a matter of time before Facebook develops a reputation system and ties it into an e-commerce engine. With email, calendar, events, chat, IM, photos, videos, documents, feeds and thousands of applications, you can see how Facebook could become the digital hub of activity for hundreds of millions of people. Further out, the Facebook virtual environment, complete with your personal hologram.
The extension of the social Web in to search engines is not surprising, but you could view this development as another step on the slippery slope of privacy matters. Between cameras watching every move in large cities, DNA databases and Web sites collecting your clickstreams, social graph, wish lists and other data, the machine has the raw materials to knit together highly invasive individual dossiers. At this point, at least in most countries, privacy regulations are helping to keep the spies, stalkers, criminal hackers and unprincipled marketers at bay.
As Stefanie Olsen reported, Rapleaf presents an interesting case study. The company has collected 50 million profiles, crawling and indexing publicly available sources to find and correlate data such as birth date, physical address, friends, schools, favorite books, applications downloaded and social network and political affiliations.
Om Malik thinks that Facebook's public profiles will make life difficult for the people search startups mentioned above. Perhaps, but Facebook is focused on presenting what you choose to share about yourself. The people search engines are scraping the Web to collect information about you, taking a cue from the long established fee-based background checking services that dive into public records, such as criminal reports, lawsuits, judgments, liens, bankruptcies, home value & property ownership, 30-year address history, relatives, associates, neighbors, marriage records, and more.
Basically, if you are on the Internet, your are exposed, which is why it is increasingly important to foster guidelines and regulations that maintain individual rights to privacy and ownership of their data in the digital age. See also: A Bill of Rights for the Social Web