Facebook Graph Search + Your Privacy Explained


Facebook made a bit of a stir yesterday with the announcement of its new Graph Search feature that enables users to search for all kinds of interesting topics and recommendations. For example, if you’re feeling flirtatious you could search for “friends of friends who are single and live in New York” and see if it’s possible to strike up a conversation, or alternatively you could ask it for “recommended restaurants in Dallas” if you’re unsure where to eat.

Sounds intriguing and I’m sure we’ll have lots of fun playing with it when it’s finally rolled out, but Graph Search does spark a number of questions about user privacy. So let’s find out how it will affect yours…

No Easy Way to Hide

One of the immediate concerns about Graph Search is that it appears there’s no simple way of opting out of the thing. The last time Facebook tweaked its privacy settings and made it so that you can no longer opt out of being ‘found’ in its search feature, no one batted an eyelid. Now, we can see exactly why they made that change.

Because of this change, in order to keep your content well and truly hidden away from the gaze of Graph Search, you’ll need to specify that it’s kept private or available only to certain friends each and every time you post something, share something, tag something etc. See that small icon next to the ‘post’ button on Facebook? You’ll need to click on that and specify who can see what you post, each time you post, in order to prevent your social activities from showing up on Search Graph to your entire list of contacts.

So it’s possible to opt out of Graph Search completely, but doing so will be a lot of hassle.

Private Information Remains Unaffected

The good news at least is that any details about you (that have been set to private, or semi-private (viewable only by select friends) will remain that way. Facebook can of course access everything there is to know about you (presuming you posted it to FB, which you probably did), but it doesn’t take advantage of that. The following video explains this in more detail:

But it may well be worth going back and reviewing your privacy settings at this juncture. Reason being, when you set them up the last time, you never had any idea that Facebook would be rolling out this kind of social search. And there might just be something that you don’t want some of your friends to see…

Images Of You Are Easier To Find

Should someone else upload a photo of you and make it publicly accessible, that image will be searchable by anyone else on Facebook. This wasn’t such a problem before, because very few people go searching random people’s timelines looking for random friends of the random person.

But with Graph Search it could present a little problem. Supposing that image has been geo-tagged at a certain location and made publicly visible, it would then show up to anyone who happens to search for images at that particular place.

It’s unlikely to affect you, but then there’s always the chance that your girlfriend or your mum, knowing you went on a lads holiday to Cancun last summer, might just start searching for images of bars around there…

Will Facebook Sell Your Search Data?

This is probably the biggest concern over Graph Search. Facebook didn’t mention any plans to monetize the new feature, but then why would they? But let’s face it, as we have seen with Twitter, if Facebook search really does take off the temptation to resist selling ‘sponsored recommendations’ will almost certainly be too strong for the company to turn down.

This isn’t so bad in itself, but as our own Mellisa Tolentino pointed out earlier today, advertisers will likely want to know about your search history in order to better target their ads, and there’s only one way they can know it – by Facebook selling it to them.