How Facebook Graph Search will affect your privacy
FACEBOOK users in the UK will soon be able to get their hands on Graph Search, the social network's biggest, baddest new feature that enables users to discover more information about their friends, more quickly.
Graph Search has been billed by Facebook as a way to "find people who share your interests" and "find more of what you're looking for through your friends and connections".
Graph Search links every data object on Facebook's data servers - each photo, each like, each post, each friendship - in an intricately connected web, or graph.
At present Facebook offers a basic keyword-based search function that is, by its own admission, rarely much use. Graph Search aims to transform that experience.
It also presents an opportunity for the company to try and steal a march on Google's search dominance.
To be clear, Graph Search is not a Google killer, but it does present people with a way to mine social and personal information contained within their Facebook networks that hasn't been seen before.
Inevitably though, any system that mines and searches personal information raises concerns about privacy for its users.
Facebook says that any privacy controls currently in place will be respected by Graph Search.
On the surface this suggests there is nothing to worry about, but what many users might not consider is the extent to which Graph Search totally transforms Facebook's search experience.
The ease with which Graph Search dredges up posts and information from a user's past is a credit to Facebook's engineers but also a concern for many users.
Embarrassing photos of that drunken night out from many years ago, a dodgy status update or a 'like' for a controversial topic, probably long since forgotten about, all become accessible within a few clicks thanks to the wonders of Graph Search.
The nature of the graph means complex search queries become incredibly easy. Graph Search is driven by a natural language search engine, allowing users to be incredibly creative when searching for information.
When Graph Search beta was released, a website called Actual Facebook Graph Searches documented a handful of searches that, depending on your opinion, counted as either highly amusing or deeply worrying.
Searches for "Mothers of Jews who like Bacon" or "Current employers of people who like Racism" have the potential to cause severe embarrassment, controversy or worse.
This could be particularly true if something innocuous, a joke, is taken out of context, or viewed from a cultural perspective different to the one in which it was created.
Another privacy concern linked to Graph Search is one of unintended visibility.
This is because Graph Search illustrates the extent to which Facebook privacy depends on the behaviour of your friends.
If you are tagged in a set of images by a friend who allows all of their content to be viewed publicly, then you will appear to all and sundry in a Graph Search for photos using your name.
In this situation, your friends choose the audience, not you.
How to avoid Graph Search privacy problems
There are ways to increase your privacy, although they can be rather laborious.
Within Facebook's privacy settings the "limit past posts" feature enables you to limit the audience of any content shared publicly in the past to be shared with just your friends.
You can use this feature to hide everything from public searches against your name.
Activity Log, accessible via the right-hand side of the profile page cover photo, will become your new best friend.
It allows you to control the visibility of every single item you post yourself and those that you are tagged in by others.
Here you can remove tags from photos that you don't want to appear in Graph Search results, although only 10 at a time (which is annoying if you want to remove yourself from 200 or so photos of which you are no longer so proud), remove tags from posts by others and review all other content related to your profile.
There is also a setting to turn on a feature called "Timeline Review" which means any photos or posts you are tagged in must be approved by you before they become visible on your timeline and via Graph Search.
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