New Site Exposes Embarrassing Facebook Updates

Openbook auto-searches for embarrassing public Facebook posts.

ByABC News
May 17, 2010, 3:42 PM

May 18, 2010 -- Want to know which Web users are cheating on tests, playing hooky from work or bashing their bosses?

A new Web site called Openbook makes it easier than ever to search for the most embarrassing status updates to grace all of Facebook.

Launched last week by a trio of San Francisco-based software engineers and developers, Openbook aggregates all public Facebook posts into one constantly updated stream and lets visitors query the site for anything of interest.

The founders said the point of the site is to draw attention to the amount of information about users Facebook makes public. To highlight the potential social consequences of making so much information visible and searchable, Openbook suggests especially sensitive search terms, such as "rectal exam," "lost my virginity" and "divorce trial."

Will Moffat, 32, one of the site's founders, said he was playing around with Facebook's public API (application programming interface) when he suddenly realized just how much personal information Facebook controls.

"I was just gobsmacked by the results," he said.

As concerns build about Facebook's approach to privacy, Moffat said he and his partners, Peter Burns and James Home, decided to use their technical know-how to really show users what can happen with public information on Facebook.

"Because we work the data and manipulate it for a living, we're much more used to the idea that anything out there is out there forever and can be linked [and searched]," he said. But the average Facebook users might not understand the full consequences of making their information available to everyone, he added.

"The implications of that are massive and a lot of people don't get it," Moffat said. "It's a very abstract problem. The question is can we convince people that it is actually a real problem, not just a theoretical one."

He said Facebook not only does a less than adequate job of communicating to users how public each piece of shared information will be, they change up the rules too frequently, generating mass confusion.

"I love Facebook and I'm pretty sure the other guys like it too, it's just the erosion of privacy over time," he said. "I feel a bit like a frog in hot water. Each time it was annoying but not too bad."

But he said that Facebook's latest round of changes, which opened up even more public information to other developers and Web sites, "really was the last straw."

Openbook, he said, was an attempt to encourage Facebook to take privacy seriously and educate users about the implications of their own online privacy decisions.

A quick Openbook search for "hate my boss," for example, reveals a long list of personally-identifiable posts from disgruntled employees who don't seem the least bit concerned that their bosses could easily read their status updates.

Moffat said he thinks Facebook needs to more clearly indicate to users when their candid, sometimes off-color, comments are about to fly off into the Internet.