Batten down your privacy settings; here comes Facebook Graph Search

Facebook graph privacy searchToday Facebook announced a new way to find information on the social network. Dubbed Graph Search, the feature is different from traditional Web search tools like Google; most results come from within Facebook – and that means being able to find tons of information about the friends, colleagues, and brands you follow.

So, for example, you can search “friends who like Breaking Bad and skiing’,” or “my colleagues who like Mexican food and own an iPhone” and Graph Search will deliver applicable results. And if certain information isn’t available from within Facebook’s databases, the company has partnered with Microsoft’s Bing search engine to bring in outside details.

As you might imagine, privacy issues rocketed to the center of the discussion, with Facebook addressing the topic in both its press conference, and with a Web page devoted to the topic (where you can also lightly try out Graph Search for yourself).

“We’ve built Graph Search from the start with privacy in mind, and it respects the privacy and audience of each piece of content on Facebook,” the company said in a press release. “It makes finding new things much easier, but you can only see what you could already view elsewhere on Facebook.”

That all sounds great – but given Facebook’s history of bending the definition of “privacy,” we decided to get some independent experts to weigh in on the hot new feature.

How privacy works on Graph Search

The first thing to know is that none of your information will show up for other users unless you “allowed” them to see it in the first place. In other words, if a status update or photo is set to “friends only,” only your friends will see such a result in the Graph Search queries. Posts and other content set to “public” can be found by anyone – just as it always has been.

If you want to change your settings now to limit which information about you is available to others through Graph Search, Facebook provides these tips:

  • Use the audience selector to choose who can see things you share
  • Visit your activity log to see and review things you’ve hidden from your timeline
  • Go to the About section on your timeline to view and manage basic info about yourself

To sum up, Graph Search does not change your privacy settings, nor does it allow complete strangers to see information about you that you never intended them to see (unless, of course, you fumbled your privacy settings in the first place). Facebook will also begin to show a “review who can see your stuff” prompt when users gain access the Graph Search feature, which is currently in beta and requires an invite.

What privacy experts think about Graph Search

While the emphasis on privacy is a smart PR move by Facebook (and possibly a legally binding one in the eyes of the U.S. government), the attention to user privacy does not mean everything is the same for users.

“Just because content was technically public on Facebook before doesn’t mean it was easily accessible,” says Sarah Downey, an attorney and privacy advocate for Abine. “But with a powerful new search feature, everything you post is one search away. It’s like the difference in finding Web content with or without a search engine: It exists online, but it might as well be invisible without Google.”

Adi Kamdar, an activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), agrees that Facebook Graph Search has created a “discoverability problem” for users.

“What people once thought was shared only to their Facebook audience – whether that’s their friends, networks, or the whole public – but figured was too hard to find is now readily available,” he says. “For example, someone may not remember that she ‘liked’ the ‘Samsung Mobile’ page back in college, but now people can search for ‘People who work at Apple, Inc. who like Samsung Mobile,’ which could lead to a heavy dose of awkward.”

While Graph Search may now allow our social networking histories to come back to bite us more easily, it may not cause Facebook users to revolt as they have with other new features.

“The open question is whether increasing the accessibility of information will feel like a privacy violation for some users,” says David Jacobs, consumer protection attorney for the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). “I’m hesitant to make a prediction at this point, but it seems like the change in exposure isn’t great enough to provoke user backlash.”

That said, people do not often react positively when it seems as though the disclosure of their personal information is out of their control, says Jacobs.

“With Timeline, for example, some users were surprised at the amount of information that was now readily available (even though it was all previously accessible, albeit with more effort),” he says. “For a more recent, and more controversial, example of privacy through obscurity, see the map of registered gun owners prepared by several periodicals. Although the registrations were always publicly-available, the presentation of this information in a more accessible format still caused controversy.”

gun owners map

Button things up

In short, the launch of Graph Search makes it “more important than ever to lock down your Facebook privacy settings, now that everything you post will be even easier to find,” says Downey. But that’s not all – this so-called discoverability problem with Graph Search may actually be the feature that pushes us to take control of our Facebook privacy settings in ways we never have before, thus increasing our privacy online.

“On Facebook, things are more public by default than people may think,” says Kamdar. “But even beyond specifically public settings, actions, and photos that were once lost in the sands of Timeline are now more easily discoverable by strangers with loose ties, forcing us to reassess what we actually think is private and what is not.”

Social Media

Twitter: Now you can jazz up your retweets with GIFs, photos, and videos

Twitter for Android, iOS, and its mobile site now lets you add GIFs, photos, and videos to retweets. The feature, which the company said people have been asking for, can be enabled in a few quick taps.
Social Media

Tinder Lite will soon launch to bring the dating game into emerging markets

Tinder Lite, a lightweight version of the dating app, will soon launch in emerging markets where access to data may be limited. The app will look to bring more people into the dating game, as Tinder looks to maintain its growth.
Social Media

Update WhatsApp! Sophisticated attack installs spyware with just a call

A WhatsApp vulnerability left Android and iOS devices open to attack from sophisticated surveillance software that could be installed simply by calling the targeted person through the app.
Social Media

Twitter sorry for mistakenly storing and sharing some users’ location data

Twitter has revealed that a bug led to it accidentally storing and sharing location data for a number of iOS users. The issue, which has now been fixed, affected those operating more than one Twitter account from the app.
Social Media

Save me: How to download Instagram photos from any device

Browsing photos in Instagram is one thing, but saving them is another. Until recently, it wasn't easy to get your pics and data off the 'gram and saved elsewhere, but now you can download Instagram photos with just a few clicks.
Photography

Photographer sues Ariana Grande after she posts his images of her on Instagram

A professional photographer is suing Ariana Grande after she posted photos on Instagram that he'd taken of her. Grande used the post to promote one of her albums, but the photographer says she used the photos without permission.
Social Media

Instagram ditches plans for stand-alone Direct messaging app

Instagram is shuttering it's stand-alone messaging app, Direct, after testing it since 2017. While the messaging features remain intact inside Instagram, the separate app will be discontinued in the next few weeks.
Social Media

6 easy ways to archive all of your favorite Instagram videos

Saving Instagram videos should be just as easy as taking a screenshot. So, we've put together a list of the best apps and tools that save your favorite Instagram videos onto your phone or computer.
Social Media

Instagram’s new Explore grid tempts you to open your wallet

Instagram has made some changes to its Explore tab that might tempt you into the occasional shopping spree. It's also planning to add Stories to the grid, mixing them up with the existing photos and videos.
Social Media

Be the master of your own Insta-verse with multiple Instagram accounts

Whether you own a small business or have separate Instagram accounts for your five cats, we'll walk you through the process of switching between your multiple accounts on your Apple or Android devices.
Social Media

A fond farewell to Grumpy Cat, the internet’s most famous feline

The worst day ever. We say farewell and offer a fond remembrance for Grumpy Cat, the internet's most famous frowning feline, meme and a genuine sweetheart, who died at the age of seven. Exceptionally even tempered and tolerant, Grumpy Cat…
Mobile

Treat yo' selfie with one of these 13 apps made to beautify your pics

Selfies might be a phenomenon second only to karaoke, but they're not the easiest thing in the world to create. Thankfully, these awesome selfie apps for Android and iOS will make beautifying your self-portraits easier than capturing them.
Web

Creators of WhatsApp attack software face lawsuit from Amnesty International

This week a spyware attack was launched on WhatsApp. Now the Israeli firm linked to that attack is facing a lawsuit from human rights NGO Amnesty International, alleging their software has been used to surveil human rights defenders.
Mobile

New York could dish out fines for texting while crossing the street

Do you text on your phone while crossing the street? The dangers of stepping out in front of a car or bus are obvious, but in New York, offenders could soon face a fine of as much as $250, too.