Facebook sells out: Profiles opened for world to see

NEW YORK – The online hangout Facebook is opening another window to the outside world, letting nonusers for the first time search for members’ personal profile pages.

The company also plans to begin letting Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. and other search companies index portions of Facebook profiles to help nonusers more easily find them.

Facebook, which faced a user rebellion a year ago over privacy concerns, stressed that information available through such searches would be less than what someone could find simply by signing up.

Users could choose to remain invisible in such searches.

“We think this will help more people connect and find value from Facebook without exposing any actual profile information or data,” Facebook engineer Philip Fung wrote in a company blog entry.

Normally, a search on Facebook would yield a user’s name, photo, list of friends and network – such as that person’s college or work affiliation or hometown.

Nonusers would get the name and photo only. They also must sign up to contact the user.

Begun as an online community limited to college campuses, Facebook has grown in usage as membership eligibility gradually expanded to high schools, selected companies and later anyone with an e-mail address.

Unlike the social-networking leader MySpace from News Corp., Facebook has built several walls to limit what people can see about its users.

So when Facebook launched a feature to let users easily see changes made to another member’s profile, users rebelled and forced the company to offer additional privacy controls.

But limiting access in the name of privacy can also limit growth, and Facebook has been trying to strike a balance.

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