Facebook is offering Graph Search as the best way to figure out how you are connected to other users and to discover people you may have more things in common with. But privacy advocates warn there are creepy ways to use the tool.
Someone can search for men over 30 living in Seattle who like to go kayaking. Or search for friends who liked football and live in Cleveland. Restaurants in New York City my friends like. Users can use the results to make plans with friends and like-minded folks.
And then there are the searches that don’t quite feel so innocent. British tech blogger Tom Scott listed some troubling searches on a Tumblr page “Actual Facebook Graph Searches”, such as a search for “Family members of people who live in China and like Falun Gong,” a religious movement banned in China, or “Single women who live nearby and who are interested in men and like getting drunk!”
CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Graph Search last month, which Facebook is in the midst of slowly rolling out to users. Users create a “social graph” to look for friends and other Facebook users with overlapping data in the user profile pages, interests, and “likes” saved on the social networking site.
The new feature builds its search results only on information the user has made visible, and respects all privacy settings. Friends who already have access to see a user’s data will see that user pop up on the search.
Facebook also restricts the search results for minors. Details such as birthday, school, hometown, and current city for users under 18 will only be available to their friends and “friends of friends” who are also under 18, Facebook said. Of course, this protection will only work if the minor told the truth about their age in the first place.
Even so, now is a very good time to go over your privacy settings to control what information about you shows up on other people’s Graph Searches. The Help Center has some useful suggestions.
First, limit who can search for you on Facebook. To restrict your profile, and Graph Search results, to show up only for friends and not “friends of friends,” click on the lock icon on the top right of the profile page. On the “Who can lookup your timeline by name” setting, select the answer to be just “Friends.”
Secondly, regularly go through the Activity Log and clean up all the photos you are tagged in, the likes you’ve shared with friends, and all the places you’ve checked in that you don’t want appearing in Graph Search. If you don’t want them to come up, dump them from your profile.
Click the lock icon on the top right of the profile page and select “Review all your posts and things you’re tagged in.” By looking at the Activity you can either click on the icon of two-people’s heads to limit the visibility of every post, like, tag, comment, or photo. Facebook doesn’t offer any bulk review tools, so you will have to review every item ever entered one at a time.
Third, even if you have restricted your current posts and profile, older posts may still be accessible. Click on the lock icon on the top right of the profile page, and bring up the “Limit the audience for old posts on your timeline” setting. You can “Limit Past Posts” and “Limit Old Posts.”
Fourth, organize friends into lists so that you can control who can access photos and posts. The lists can also help decide what levels of access these friends should have. For example, co-workers don’t necessarily need to see or search photos.
“As always, when sharing anything on Facebook, remember to use good judgment and share responsibly,” Facebook Safety recently wrote on its page.