Facebook Graph Search and Privacy

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Facebook homepage on screenThis week Facebook has started rolling out the new Graph Search for all users. Six months ago, on January 15, 2013, Facebook made an announcement they had promised would be BIG. We all hoped for integration with the newly acquired Instagram brand or perhaps a competitor to Google’s recently acquired Zagat. Maybe even an easier way to manage privacy. But, of course not, this went in a different direction. Facebook introduced Graph Search, a search engine within Facebook that queries all user data you are related to (and often much that you are not directly related to) in your Facebook network of friends and beyond to find things like “Pictures of Catholic Friends who like MegaDeath” or “Coffee Shops my Single Friends like in Seattle (a very extensive list!).”

How Does Graph Search Work?

The first beta rollout day for Facebook’s new graph search was on the announcement day and anyone was able to sign up to join the waiting list. So, I did just that. The approval came rolling in on January 24, 2013, and I got signed up and playing around with this new tool right away. You too will have no choice but to use it going forward since it is now a site-wide rollout. Click here to jump down to tips for updating your privacy settings.

How You Can Get Graph Search

It was slowly rolled out across the Facebook user base to allow time for people to get used to it and to also tweak it to make it more helpful. This was the beta version but appears that not much has changed during the past six months of beta use.

As expected it was a little creepy but on first glance not too bad. But, my first search was “Friends who live in North Carolina” which brought up exactly what I already knew it would of my local friends. Then I went a little deeper with “Friends who live in North Carolina and like The Avett Brothers” to see who else was a Facebook fan in addition to a true fan of my favorite band. Again, nothing surprising popped up here. And this is probably as deep as most people will go with this tool.

When Graph Search got Creepy

Facebook Graph Search Promo ScreenshotBut, the creepy part started when I searched for “Pictures of Married Friends who like Apple” and suddenly my screen was filled with pictures of all of my friends’ little kids, drunk photos from parties and more than perhaps you want everyone just happening upon. Sure all this stuff could be found today if it was being found prior to the new graph search tool (privacy settings do not seem to have been affected by this addition), but you would have had to dig through an individual’s photos and informational details to put it all together; It never would have popped up all in one place in a pretty collage image on your screen. And if you are searching for single guys in your neighborhood who are bloggers too, well you’re now in luck! (creeped out yet?)

How is It Useful to Users?

As of this article’s initial writing, I had been playing with this new tool for about 24 hours so far, trying to understand why it might add value to a Facebook user’s life. And, now six months later, I am still stumped. Unless one is interested in stalking others based on interests and other personal details/photos or you are an employer looking for reasons to fire someone (e.g. try searching “People who work at Pepsi and like Budweiser” to see if you can find anyone who works at Pepsi drinking a beer and I bet you’ll find one), there does not really seem much of a point to this new feature.

So, if users do not really want this, then why has Facebook created it? Good question and not one I can answer just yet (except I am guessing it will help advertisers to better target their messages). If you can, please leave your comments below – I’d love to hear your thoughts.

How Does Graph Search Make Users Feel?

While the service is still rolling out to a lot of people this week and people are either loving it (in an addictive fashion like Pinterest draws you deeper and deeper in) or hating it (in a how did Facebook know that about me or about my friends kind of way). It is a pretty polarizing tool at this time. That being said, it is an innovative way to pair up search and social networks.

Update Your Privacy Settings

Time will tell how it works out but the one piece of advice I would offer either way is to make sure you have all your privacy settings locked down. If you do not want everyone seeing every picture of you ever posted (by you or by a friend – if you have been tagged in it, it is confirmed as you for all to search, dependent on your privacy settings), then change your privacy for your photos. You may need to untag some pics that others have posted, you may want to remove your political affiliations or brands/pages you follow and you may even want to think about what shows up on your timeline.

Today, the graph searches are limited to people, places, interests and photos, but posts and status messages will be searchable using this tool in the near future. So every status update you have ever written about how much you love your kids’ teacher or dislike your boss will be indexed in Facebook’s Graph Search.

And don’t forget all the steps you went through to get here over time (like I did) and start “liking” and “tagging” things again a month from now or you will be subjected again to the same concerns (like I was).

Update Your Default Status Post Privacy

Facebook Privacy Setting on Status UpdatesUpdate the default setting of who sees your posts with one simple click of a button on your next post. Here’s how: When you share your next status update or photo with your friends, there is always a little icon underneath that allows you to choose who will see this info when you post it. Be sure this is set to share with “Friends” or whatever you prefer, but be sure it is not public. This is a quick thing to change and once you have set it one time for any given new post, it will auto-default to that same setting every time you share in the future unless you change it again.

And, it might be a good idea to review your timeline to make sure there is nothing sensitive that you posted from the past for public consumption. If there is, Facebook generally allows you to update that same icon after the fact as well so you can change it to only be seen by your selected group vs. public. I told you – this one is quick and easy!

Audit your Likes

If you have been on Facebook for a few years, like most of us have, you likely have “Liked” many local restaurants as well as your favorite movies, books and bands. And maybe you even liked some of these things because it would enter you to win a prize as part of a promotion. With the new search feature, who you “like” on your Facebook page becomes core to how the algorithm works which means if you liked The Teletubbies when your baby was a newborn but now you have a five-year old who hates them as much as you do, you likely never went back to unlike them. So, now is the time to do so. Go through everything you have ever liked and unlike anything you do not want to be seen by the world. This is a good tip on an annual basis anyway but no better time than now with graph search on the way!

And while you are at it, why not audit that friend list too. Good chance you met someone at a wedding, became “friends” and then never have talked again so why do they have the ability to watch your every move? No time like the present for an unfriending and unliking frenzy!

How to Unlike

Hot to Unlike a Facebook PageHere’s how you unlike those pesky brands you have changed your mind about in the past years since you originally liked them:

  1. Go to your profile page or timeline page.
  2. Just below your name but above your status info, you will see several boxes, one of which is “Likes” and it will have a number beside it. This is the number of pages you have liked in your Facebook lifetime. Click on this.
  3. Now you will see a summary of your favorites at the top but scroll down to go through it in a more comprehensive way. To where you see “Likes” and a timeline of years just below. Start with the current year and work backward is my advice.
  4. Hover over the name of the page and a box will pop-up showing you more about that page. There will also be a box with a check on the bottom right side indicating that you have “Liked” this page.
  5. Hover over that Liked button and another box will show up, go down to the bottom of it and click on “Unlike” if this is a page that you no longer wish to be associated with. (The friend unliking process is very similar as well).

What Do You Think?

So now that you have the skinny on what the graph search is, let us know how it is impacting your life on Facebook. Do you like it? Do you hate it? Is it too much of a privacy invasion for your taste? Got any tricks on cool things you can do with this new feature? Share your thoughts so that we can all use this tool more effectively.

Michelle has been obsessed with marketing most of her life and bringing it all online makes it even more exciting! She prides herself on always staying up on the hottest apps and tech tools to make life more fun and productive. When not geeking it out, you can find her on a hike in the mountains or cooking up a vegetarian meal in the kitchen.

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1 Comment on "Facebook Graph Search and Privacy"

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A lot of things happened in the past few weeks with Facebook:

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They are being sued and it effects just about everyone via class action suit. But it only pays out $10 per person so not really worth most people’s time. (this is the email that you and many others likely received a week or so ago).
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They introduced graph Search in beta test mode and it is being rolled out to everyone over time. I have it and cannot stand it.
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Missed earnings for Q4 2012 which was just announced last week due to vast headcount increases paired with continued inability to monetize the service:
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They lost 2 million users in December 2012 while other social networks are gaining (yet are still double the size of Google Plus or Twiiter – 2nd and third place, respectively).

It’s losing its luster and people are sick of their privacy being invaded. I am among those who feel this negativity toward the FB.

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