When I am not blogging or studying the arcane occult sciences I write freelance copy for the web. One of the topics that my services are most in demand for is writing about various things connected to the web and internet marketing and as a consequence I am usually one of the first people in my social circles to learn about new things on the interwebz. While most of this is stuff like the changes made to search engine algorithms which really only interests other computer geeks; sometimes I learn of something coming up on the cyber calendar that is of wider interest. The latest big change that is impending in cyberspace is the introduction of a search function to Facebook.
Graph Search- the End of the Cyberworld as We Know It?
This social search tool on the world’s biggest social network goes by the name of Graph Search and is still only a beta application at the moment with users that want to give it a try needing to apply for inclusion. Because I sensed that it was going to be the first big issue in social media marketing circles for the year I signed up for the beta when it came out and so I have become used to the new presentation of my Facebook pages and know something about the ins and outs of how the new search feature on Facebook is going to work. My experience has also told me that when Graph Search is officially launched that there will be a certain amount of negative reaction amongst Facebook users who seem to dislike even the smallest changes to the site.
Last year when Facebook changed over to the new Timeline configuration there was more than the average amount of grumbling about the new layout. As the approach of the main launch of Graph Search approaches and users are discovering what is coming their way there is a new wave of grumbles developing in Facebook’s corner of cyberspace with all of the usual messages of impending doom appearing in the newsfeed. Of course, as is usual, the main issue of contention is the worry that Facebook is contravening our privacy by making our previously hidden posts and photos findable through this new search feature. Many users that have seen old images of themselves suddenly resurfacing in the newsfeed have incorrectly concluded that Facebook has somehow altered their carefully configured privacy settings and is now making their most private moments in life that they were only sharing with their closest 137 friends (the average number of friends that Facebook users have) public property.
Facebook Friends and Abused Privacy
Privacy is a big issue in social media and Facebook have made it possible to create a complex privacy profile to control who sees what you post. Of course only a tiny percentage of Facebook users actually ever look at the instructions for setting your level of privacy that Facebook has published and so every change seems to mysteriously change their exposure to public scrutiny in ways that they don’t understand. The reality is that Facebook doesn’t change any settings and their updates don’t alter them either- it just seems that way. In the latest instance, old photos or posts that have suddenly returned from the dead because of the introduction of Graph Search are almost always from someone else’s timeline with less stringent security settings. It turns out that it isn’t Facebook that is disregarding your privacy, it is your friends. This is because of the way that Graph Search works.
Graph Search is a semantic search engine which means that it tries to discern the searcher’s intended result based on their connection to other Facebook users rather than just on the basis of a keyword. In practice this means that it will look for the kinds of posts that the searcher is looking for that also have some sort of personal connection to them. This is reflected in the search categories that Facebook is offering through Graph Search which are all centered around the user’s friends. So it is possible to search through your list of friends, to see who their friends are, the restaurants, games and music that they like as well as any photos that they have been tagged in. It also allows users to see all of the photos that they have liked.
Keeping Your Precious Cat Pictures Strictly Private
For instance I can enter ‘people who like cats’ into the search window and it produces a list of my friends and friends of my friends that have liked cats in their profiles. It is possible to refine the search and if I refine the search by adding the parameters of females born in 1963 it produces a list of 50 year old women in my friends list who have liked cats and shows me which of my friends’ friends that are 50 year old women have liked cats too. It doesn’t reveal any of the private information posted by any of these people to me and profiles that are restricted to friends only don’t appear in the results.
Where the issue of privacy arises is when your friends have shared photos or posts that you have made which put them on their Timeline where you have no control over them. This is compounded by these posts being shared on complete with any tags that are embedded in them. While users may have taken every precaution against unwanted viewing of their private content it is unlikely that all of their friends have, especially as we are only tenuously connected to many of the 137 people on our Facebook friends list.
Resistance is (Almost) Futile
Of course this has spawned a slew of online articles about how to keep your content private and what we all need to do before Facebook introduces Graph Search to make sure that your security isn’t breached by this latest work of evil from Zuckerberg’s cyber empire. The standard Facebook scam message has already hit the newsfeed as well with a post circulating that starts out with: “Just so everyone on my Friends List knows that I completed this and I am done! Facebook has changed their Privacy Settings once again! Due to the new “Graph App” anyone on Facebook (Including other Countries), can see your Pictures, Likes and Comments“. This is followed by the dire threat of being unfriended for noncompliance with the instructions for modifying the privacy settings of your friends’ posts. Of course the instructions won’t do anything of the sort and in reality the instructions will remove that particular friend from your newsfeed.
The only privacy settings that a Facebook user has any control over are their own settings and the amount of control that users have is quite adequate to preserve your privacy if it is set up in the right way. The first thing to remember is that you cannot alter any of these general settings in the newsfeed so all of those complicated instructions are really just a waste of time. All of the security settings are accessed either through the security tab in the left column or via the gear icon that opens the privacy shortcuts. It is possible to set the privacy of each individual post so that it can only be seen by a restricted audience but in order to make this work it has to be done on every post.
Most users will probably like Graph Search because it will make it much easier to find things that have been buried in the unending stream of posts in the newsfeed. If you are looking for a photo of your friend that you saw on Facebook months or even years ago Graph Search will find it for you straight away in most cases which is much more convenient than trying to look through your friends’ photo albums for a half remembered image that you liked (or thought that you did). Other social information like what your friends thought of the Hobbit movie or which restaurants they have eaten at in are also easy to find and so it should increase the usability of the site for most people.
One thing is certain, Graph Search isn’t going to compromise your privacy on Facebook, your friends have done that already.