October 8, 2015

Privacy Research: “SocialSpy: Browsing (Supposedly) Hidden Information in Online Social Networks”

UPDATE June 14: A Real World Example of Hacking For Supposedly Private Info and/or a Useful Search Technique for Researchers (via WonderHowTo).

Interesting research about social media, specifically Facebook, by European researchers. Posted on arXiv the other day.


SocialSpy: Browsing (Supposedly) Hidden Information in Online Social Networks


Andrea Burattin
University of Padova, Italy

Giuseppe Cascavilla
University of L’Aquila, Italy
VU University, Netherlands

Mauro Conti
University of Padova, Italy


Posted June 12, 2014


Online Social Networks are becoming the most important “places” where people share information about their lives. With the increasing concern that users have about privacy, most social networks offer ways to control the privacy of the user. Unfortunately, we believe that current privacy settings are not as effective as users might think.

In this paper, we highlight this problem focusing on one of the most popular social networks, Facebook. In particular, we show how easy it is to retrieve information that a user might have set as (and hence thought as) “private”.

As a case study, we focus on retrieving the list of friends for users that did set this information as “hidden” (to non-friends). We propose four different strategies to achieve this goal, and we evaluate them. The results of our thorough experiments show the feasibility of our strategies as well as their effectiveness: our approach is able to retrieve a significant percentage of the names of the “hidden” friends: i.e., some 25% on average, and more than 70% for some users.

Direct to Full Text Research Paper (16 pages; PDF)

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Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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