Save the hysteria for government surveillance programs please

Last week, MSNBC ran an alarmist article entitled “Details of 100 million Facebook users published online,” after a hacker security consultant compiled a list of the 171 million Facebook users who have their profiles set to show up in a public search. Any story these days with “Facebook” and “privacy” in it tends to set the Internet afire. Sometimes, the hysteria is warranted. (And when I say “sometimes,” I actually mean “rarely.” People join the social network to be social and share information, after all.)

In this case, especially, the hysteria really wasn’t warranted. The list contained people’s names, addresses, Facebook profile urls, and in some cases, phone numbers. Next time Verizon drops off my new White Pages, I expect MSNBC to break a huge, angry story about it.

InsideFacebook called the story “irresponsible journalism,” and Techcrunch appropriately titled their piece on the story, “Hacker Proves Facebook’s Public Data Is Public.” (Want to be freaked out about being tracked online? Read this instead.)

The file with Facebook users’ info was available for download on the security consultant’s site. Gizmodo was able to figure out the IP addresses of people downloading the file, and published a list of the many companies that appeared to be interested in the info. Among them were three law firms: Davis Polk, O’Melveny & Myers, and Baker & McKenzie. Quite a few ATL readers have sent this our way. Said one tipster:

I understand what a corporation which markets a product or non-legal service might be doing with this kind of data, but what purpose can it serve for a law firm? All the data collected was publicly available, but the whole thing is a little shady. Maybe ATL can figure out what their plans are for using all this information.

Okay, let’s take the conspiracy theories down a notch….

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