Apr. 1, 2010

Posted by in Facebook | 18 comments

Access Facebook Data Without Logging in to Facebook

(N.B.: This is not an April Fool’s joke.)

Programmer Pete Warden made headlines a few months ago after creating a dataset of public profile information from 210 million Facebook users. Warden gathered his data by crawling the public search pages of some users have enabled, and planned on releasing it to the public. But Facebook threatened legal action, prompting Warden to destroy the information rather than risk an expensive court battle.

While I’m sympathetic to the privacy implications that led some to criticize Warden’s planned release, I also think that exposing the data would be an effective way of awakening Facebook users to what’s possible with information now classified as public. And while Warden abided by Facebook’s demands, it’s only a matter of time before someone less compliant publishes a similar dataset. Besides, many search engines already have similar resources in their indexes.

I’ve previously demonstrated how much content is actually available for logged-in Facebook users through various techniques. But indexing all of that content would definitely violate Facebook’s terms of use. What about truly public data, though, that’s accessible even to anonymous Facebook visitors and search engines? How much information can be seen without logging in?

To answer that, I’ve created yet another bookmarklet, though this one is far more complex and will likely not yield many results for most user. This trick is more a proof of concept. If you’re trying to access private profile information, this tool will not help you.

The bookmarklet works by adding a bar of links to a public search page for a Facebook user. (Note that not all users allow a public search page to appear for their profile.) These links attempt to load public content for several of Facebook’s standard applications, including the user’s “Boxes” tab. In order to see anything, the user must at minimum (1) set the visibility of the given application to “everyone,” and (2) create content within the application marked as visible to “everyone.” Even then, you may not get any results – I’ve found that the photos application seems to only display a user’s “Profile Pictures” album if it is set to public.

To see the trick in action, bookmark this link, visit a public search page, then load the bookmark. Note that this will not work in Internet Explorer; the complexity of the code requires more characters than IE allows in a link. Also, since many users probably have little if any fully public content, I recommend testing the bookmarklet on more prolific users, such as Mark Zuckerberg, Robert Scoble, or Louis Gray.

Feedback and questions are welcome (theharmonyguy@gmail.com or comment below), but please note I publish this bookmarklet as a convenience and will likely not provide detailed technical support.

Update (April 12): A reader pointed out to me that the bookmarklet was not working on public search pages for users who do not have vanity URIs. I’ve now updated the code to work regardless of the URI format.

  1. How does it actually work? You just open up some profile while you’re logged out and run the script?

    I can’t make it work.

  2. @lightyoruichi: Pretty much – pull some someone’s profile, then run the script by clicking your bookmark, and you’ll see that under the Facebook logo is a navigation bar of links to sections like Wall, Info, Photos, etc. Clicking on any one of those links will bring up the relevant tab.

    I’ve tested it in Opera, Firefox, and Chrome.

  3. :EasterHax says:

    Good job Jooooooey. Working on FF and Opera.

    I have a feeling this shows Facebook’s future plans. Your not breaking anything, just showing what’s already there but not visible.

  4. sheriff says:

    I tried the script in Firefox, i can see the links below facebook logo but on clicking on any of the links its not doing anything.

  5. Dear the Harmonyguy,

    i tried it with Opera, i saw the tabs: Photos, Wall, info …. but when clicking on any tab nothing happen. can we fix that ?
    thanking u in advance for your efforts,

  6. @sheriff and @Diver: When you say the links are “not doing anything” or that “nothing happens”, does the page go blank when you click or not change at all?

  7. @theharmonyguy:
    when you click on one of the tabs nothing happen or change at all…tried it with Opera, Firefox based on your advice.

  8. Suleiman kainas says:

    Thanks you very much for your assistance in the global world

  9. @Diver: OK, that’s odd… let’s try this. Open up Scoble’s public search page in Firefox and load the bookmarklet. Now click Tools > Error Console, and in the window that pops up, click the Clear button. Switch back to the main window, and click on one or two of the new links. Now go back to the error console and see if any new messages have appeared.

  10. @theharmonyguy:
    following your instructions, clearing the logs in the Error Console Menu, clicking on the bookmarked link, the Error Console shows: expected declaration but found * skipped to next declaration, then in anew line Declaration dropped (font size, background position, text-justify, filter,…).

    still not able to get the access on any of the tabs. nothing happen when clicking on it.

  11. @Diver: Click the bookmarked link, then clear the error console, then click one of the tabs. All those expected declaration errors are from Facebook pages loaded in the background when you click the bookmarked link. The fact that they’re loading and the tabs appear mean most of the code is working, but there must be some error when you actually click one of the tabs.

  12. @theharmonyguy: nothing happen….code is working tabs are appearing, but no access..

  13. good job working on FF.

  14. @Diver: Just to re-confirm, are you testing this on one of the profiles I linked to (Scoble, Zuckerberg, or Gray)?

  15. @theharmonyguy: yes it’s tested and worked properly on the the profiles posted in this page. but i was trying to get these info from profile that has a very close privacy. sorry.
    can we arrange to get an info from a closed profile??
    thanking you in advance,

  16. @Diver: Ah I understand now. As the post describes, this bookmarklet is merely aimed at demonstrating what’s available without logging in, and admittedly it’s not much. I’m not going to post hacks that override Facebook’s privacy settings or break their terms of service. Sorry!

  17. synapSecure says:

    Didn’t try it, but after the mod to the privacy and security model back in November (API block removed et al) you could visit anyone’s page and do a compare between what you could view and what search engines were displaying. I was overjoyed to find how public my profile suddenly became. I know the concept that you just demonstrated should work. Enjoying your site. Good stuff.

  18. Tried 2/20/11 doesn’t work on any profile above or any other one. Please fix.


  1. uberVU - social comments - Social comments and analytics for this post... This post was mentioned on Twitter by theharmonyguy: New Post: Access Facebook Data Without ...

Leave a Reply