Facebook is allowing users, including brands, journalists and government agencies, to take advantage of its big data with Facebook Graph Search. This has raised questions over privacy.
Graph Search is being advertised on a personal level as a ‘get to know your friends better/make new friends’ tool:
The idea of Graph Search is to return exact matches on multiple search terms. For example, searching ‘Men who like music and live in London’ would return male Facebook users who have listed music as one of their likes and London as their location. It pulls results from the searcher’s friends and from publicly available information from non-friends.
Graph Search has recently expanded its remit to include posts and status updates as well as likes and bios. This gives anyone who can benefit from people-insight (PRs, journalists, governments, future employers, criminals) the ability to target/exploit/source from one of the largest databases in the world.
Journalism.co.uk has gone into detail about the benefits of Graph Search for journalists. It quotes Felicity Morse, social media editor at the Independent who said: ‘The potential for searching posts and statuses regarding a breaking news event could be useful for journalists in finding sources and eye-witnesses’. The tool also has uses for historic stories in finding the first eyewitness accounts; reactions to events by searching comments and status updates; and audience engagement.
Brands could similarly take advantage of Graph Search, using it to discover mentions of their products or associated keywords. Do you run a coffee shop in Brighton and want to know who is talking about coffee? Graph Search could be for you.
What privacy settings a user has selected obviously has a big effect on what results will be returned. Facebook members have three options to determine the inclusion of their information in Graph Search: Only Me, Friends or Public. Though Facebook is confidently advising people on information privacy in relation to Graph Search, the issue is still a concern for key for a number of online commentators:
Gizmodo has gone into depth offering advice on how to protect your posts on Facebook to stay out of Graph Search.
The Guardian claims that for most Facebook users, a consideration over who will and won’t see posts was previously not an issue. A lot of historic information may therefore still be available in public searches.
PandoDaily raises similar concerns over publicly available historic data, calling Graph Search ‘the ghost of Facebook past’.
Macworld claims it opens up possibilities for phishing scams.
CMS Wire highlights a recruitment company that uses Graph Search.
Tom Scott explains why privacy settings are so important, with examples from Graph Search including: ‘Single women who live nearby and who are interested in men and like getting drunk’.
It is unclear how many people use privacy settings and to what degree, with a recent study suggesting around 13 million US Facebook users haven’t changed, or are even unaware of, their privacy settings. Many people may not realise that their posts are publicly available, contributing to (or detracting from) their chances of future jobs and being exploited by savvy marketers.
Sensible people will check their privacy settings and more sensible people will know never to put anything on Facebook they wouldn’t be happy to be read out on a national news broadcast. Because that will happen; it’s only matter of time.