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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org 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.