Facebook Graph Search has been making headlines since its launch.
It immediately triggered a reaction about privacy. Facebook had anticipated this and had a video ready to explain just how everything worked from a privacy perspective.
The fact is, Graph Search was developed by Facebook to provide backend support for its marketing and advertising sales. Facebook makes its money from selling targeted advertising. To target individuals based on their profiles, Facebook had to be able to find the relevant people. So, a powerful search tool was needed. Graph Search is this system but now as a customer facing tool, not just one for the behind-the-scenes, advertising teams.
What does this mean for everyday Facebook users?
While it’s great for an advertiser to be able to find, say, all the females who like scuba diving who live in Melbourne, what about being able to find ‘females’ who like ‘getting drunk’ that live in Brunswick? Plus, the results will be complete with photos and, if someone is foolish enough, their address and other contact information? Is that a good thing or a recipe for disaster?
When is a like not a like?
It annoyed me when Facebook commandeered an innocent word (like) and took it to a new level of meaning. Before, you were a Facebook Fan of something, now you had to like something. It became the equivalent of a personal endorsement, whether you actually felt that way or not.
Sometimes a like isn’t a like. You may like something that amuses you or you think is a cool idea. It does not necessarily mean you like something (one step shy of loving something). In the example of the Queensland Police Service, a like is as often a show of moral support for people affected by crime or a traffic incident, as it is about a joke the social media team have made about a lost mattress on an inner city motorway.
I don’t think I particularly like any brands, for example. I may possibly like a product or support a charity cause being promoted but, frankly, I have too much of a life to genuinely like a brand.
But, as we know on Facebook there are various groups and lists of things that just appear and in the spirit of fun we like them. Think about two girls on a quest to get a puppy, for example.
Since that single event, that was real, many copy-cat Facebook pages have emerged. Some are parodies, both funny and crude. Some are nothing more than a cunningly disguised way to collect data by spammers.
Now, we are heading in the era of Graph Search.
It is slowly rolling out across the network, much like Timeline did.
Graph Search will allow some useful, everyday searches. But, it will also search what you like.
Whether you intended it or not, your likes can be matched with each other. Sometimes the results may be ironic, amusing or potentially very revealing. Graph Search will firstly return search results for people that you are friends with, before it finds other non-friend matches.
Tom Scott, a guy who knows stuff about the internet, already has access to Graph Search. And he did some interesting searches that have been making headlines around the world.
Some of the results are amusing. Some could have dire consequences for the people returned in the search results, gay men living in Iran, as an example.
Or, how about a search for married people who like prostitutes, complete with a link to their current spouse? Given Facebook is already cited as a cause in many relationship breakdowns, Graph Search is only going to increase those statistics.
Source: Actual Facebook Graph Searches by Tom Scott.
So, everything you have ever liked on Facebook is about to be searchable, and linked to everything else you have liked.
Private versus privacy
There is a distinction to be made about things that are private versus privacy.
There are privacy laws that companies must adhere to. But, if something is truly private, privacy laws do not provide protection.
The simple fact is, if you put information about yourself into any online database, it’s out there.
Facebook already does interesting things with the information you have provided. For example, if you are ‘in a relationship‘ on Facebook, then there is a ‘couples page‘. The page is automatically created with a list of all posts, photos and tags of you together. Whether you want this or not, it’s there. And, it’s not optional.
Recently, several friends in U.S. disappeared off Facebook. When I emailed them to ask why, their answers were the same. They were about to change jobs and, rather than have their new employers request their Facebook logins so they can ‘check their profiles’, they opted to delete their profiles. It was just easier to say “I’m not on Facebook”. Not that any of them had anything to hide, they just could not be bothered to go through that situation.
They figured, correctly, that their friends would still find ways to contact them online and they no longer had to put up with Sponsored ads from Shell appearing in their feed and, endless photos of their friend’s new puppy wearing amusing hats.
Is it a storm in a teacup?
But, as the initial Graph Searches perform by Tom Scott show, some people are about to be exposed in ways they did not intend and, probably do not want.
As a user of Facebook, you have agreed to the terms and conditions of using the site. This means, that any information you have provided to Facebook is subject to its terms, not yours. It is not private, it is not your information anymore.
Should you just go an unlike everything?
That is really up to you. But, what every user of Facebook needs to do, is be aware of the system that they are using.
It isn’t all fun and games. It never was. Facebook, and every other system where you have set up a profile, is collecting and collating information about you.
The current case of Port Macquarie plastic surgeon Dr Guy Hingston suing Google for defamation over its auto-complete suggestions for his name. If you type his name into Google, the first auto-complete suggestion is for: Guy Hingston bankrupt. As Hingston is not bankrupt, this is potentially losing him customers and, meets the requirements to be defamation.
So, it’s possibly that Facebook may face similar law suits as a result of how Graph Search results are returned. However, as is with the case for Hingston, he had to find out about the auto complete suggestion before he could act upon it and attempt to restore his reputation.
How will you know what Graph Search results are being returned about you, what they are implying and, who is seeing them? Until there has been an effect in your every day life, it is likely that you won’t know when and where your profile is being returned in Graph Search results.
Now, more than ever, you need to understand the systems that you (and your children) are using and, what the potential use of that information could be.
It may be a hard way to learn but, Graph Search may just be the thing that finally educates people about the difference between privacy and, what is private.