Thanks to recent changes to Facebook's privacy settings, marketers are now able to mine data from Facebook profiles that have limited their shared information to the least amount possible. Blogger Max Klein has found a loophole that allows marketers to compile consumers' name, age, and other personal data with the simple help of an email address.

According to Wired: "Given Facebook’s ubiquity and most people’s reliance on a single e-mail address, the harvest could be quite rich." But marketers have long been able to compile such data, and they don't necessarily need Facebook to do it.

From Wired:

"As Klein points out, a marketer could take a list of 1,000 e-mail addresses, either legally or illegally collected — and upload those through a dummy account — which then lets the user see all the profiles created using those addresses. Given Facebook’s ubiquity and most people’s reliance on a single e-mail address, the harvest could be quite rich.

Using a simple scraping tool, a marketer could then turn a list of e-mail addresses into a rich, full-fledged set of marketing profiles, with names, pictures, ages, locations, interests, photos, wall posts, affiliations and names of your friends, depending on how users  have their profiles set. Run a few algorithms on that data and you can start to make inferences about race, income, sexual orientation and interests."

The change in Facebook's privacy settings at the end of the year makes it so that consumers' name, city, profile photo, gender and friend list are easily available. Together with an email address, that presents a pretty full profile for brands trying to reach out to consumers.

But while Facebook admits that anyone with a person's email address can now get this data, they also have some stop gaps in place to prevent marketer abuse. Facebook limits the number of email addresses that can be run through its system and blocks users who upload contacts at too high a rate.

That's not going to catch every marketer, since anyone can create numerous dummy accounts in efforts to mine data. But nefarious marketing tricks have been around forever. And anyone who has ever played some silly game on Facebook has already shared their data willingly. As Wired admits:

"Users should know that the information exposed in this little hack is not unlike that which is turned over to third-party applications whenever you or one of your friends installs an application, including such things as quizzes to decide what kind of pet you are."

There's no proof that brands are using this loophole, but brands that want to collect data regardless of how they get it will continue to do so. That doesn't mean something like this will become common practice, because it's really what you do with such data that is important. And blindly spamming consumers in a certain demographic or location isn't a very useful tactic.

Image: Facebook Pirates

Meghan Keane

Published 6 January, 2010 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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Comments (4)


John C Abell

The real problem is that there is still an imbalance in default ownership of a Facebook member's information. It's all very well and good to make everything public by default if one can simply not fill in profile info (my friends all know where I work and what I do and how to contact me without using FB as a Rolodex). But today I had to fill in a captcha to send an e-mail to a Facebook friend who actually is a friend, with no diminished access to my details. Clearly FB has some rationalizations yet to make. Also, how ya doin' Meghan? :)

over 8 years ago



So....what's your point?

If my account is open for all to see, then you having my email address doesn't matter.

You already had it, whether my FB account was open or not.

over 8 years ago



2010 is here. Plenty have made specific predictions about what you can expect this year. Predictions are fun, but sometimes knowing which markets to look at is a better approach.Fashion retailer Zara released an iPhone app recently, which falls well short of what a retailer could achieve with an iPhone app, in terms of promoting products and providing useful information for users.

over 8 years ago


Frank Polenose

Not a great post to read. These Social sites are all trouble!

over 8 years ago

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