In January, Facebook launched a new service: Graph Search. Initially only available to a limited number of users, Graph Search makes it possible to search Facebook for users who share a particular set of characteristics. For example, it would be possible to find people in a particular location who have “liked” a page on foreign cinema.
The new search feature didn’t long before various IT news outlets and bloggers began to point out the less salubrious possibilities offer it. Some pages on Facebook could be extremely embarrassing if it became public that an individual had “liked” them.
The “Actual Facebook Graph Searches” Tumblr Blog
“Actual Facebook Graph Searches” is created and maintained by early Graph Search adopter Tom Scott. The blog features screenshots of search results, typically juxtaposing membership of a group with a particular ideology or set of expectations with “likes” for pages that are at odds with this group. For instance, one screenshot is of a search for married Facebook users who are fans of a dating site for extramarital liaisons.
The Tumbler blog immediately attracted controversy. While some found it amusing, others saw it as an invasion of Facebook users’ privacy or feared that it might encourage Internet stalking or interference by repressive regimes. While users’ photographs are rendered unrecognizable and names have been blurred out, it would still be possible for someone with Graph Search (we’ll all have it soon) enabled to conduct a similar search and thus find their profiles.
In the Tumblr’s FAQ section Tom Scott addresses common concerns, pointing out that repressive governments are likely to be aware of the possibilities of Graph Search and reminding users that they can opt out of the search by changing their privacy settings. For those who are concerned that their Facebook activity might cause them embarrassment or have other negative consequences, Scott has this advice: “If it’d be awkward if it was put on a screen in Times Square, don’t put it on Facebook.”
While Graph Search is new, the possibility of a spouse, employer, family member or teacher stumbling across online information you’d rather they didn’t see is a perennial one. Facebook users should take “Actual Facebook Graph Searches” as a timely reminder to consider their online activity more carefully.