And the more information you share in your “About” info – like where you live or work or went to school, which Facebook makes public by default – the easier it will be for abusive, crazy, and annoying people to narrow down their search.
So why did Facebook do this?
You want the real reason or the official reason? The official reason comes via a blog post from Chief Privacy Officer Michael Richter:
The setting also made Facebook's search feature feel broken at times. For example, people told us that they found it confusing when they tried looking for someone who they knew personally and couldn't find them in search results, or when two people were in a Facebook Group and then couldn't find each other through search.
The real reason is because Facebook always wants to make as much information as public as possible so it’s easier to monetize you via targeted ads. It’s the same reason they insist on “real identities” for people who sign up. This is just another leak in the steady drip-drip-drip of your not-so-personal information.
What can people do about this, besides leave Facebook?
If you must use Facebook, and you still want to remain relatively private, you can do it using a fake name, like Neal Down or Ben Dover. You can go into your Account settings and change your name up to five times, though if you get too creative Facebook will flag it as a fake. (So, sadly, Seymour Butz will not work.) You should also remember to change your username – the name Facebook puts in your Timeline page URL – as well.
Doesn’t this kind of fakery violate Facebook’s terms of service?
Yes, totally. At the same time, though, Facebook has publically acknowledged there are something like 80 million fake accounts already, which means the real number of fakes is probably much larger. As a publically traded company, Facebook has absolutely no incentive to do anything that would make its membership numbers go down. So the odds of anything bad happening to your account are minimal.
Is this the worse thing to ever happen to privacy, like, ever?
You have heard of the NSA, I trust? There was a time when a change like this would have Facebook users hoisting torches and pitchforks; you could hear panties twisting all across the InterWebs. This change is going down pretty smoothly, in large part because there are so many worse privacy violations to worry about.