Getting ready for Graph Search

What you can do to prepare for Facebook’s new search tool

Facebook has almost completed the roll-out of Graph Search, its new search tool which allows users to dig deep into the treasure trove of information that makes up the world’s largest social network. Graph Search is essentially an internal search engine, tapping into all the personal data, photos, and interests that have been posted by Facebook users.

But while Facebook executives have assured us that Graph Search will respect existing privacy settings and only show information that can already be viewed elsewhere on Facebook, there have been concerns that the new tool could surprise or embarrass Facebook users by dragging up information that they thought was buried in the past.

“What people once thought was shared only with their Facebook audience – whether that’s their friends, networks, or the whole public – but figured was too hard to find is now readily available,” said Adi Kamdar, an activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Imagine you’re a young woman who liked to party at college but is now rapidly climbing the ranks of a highly respected law firm. Some less-than-discrete photos of you were posted on Facebook many years ago but you take comfort from the fact that you deleted them from your own page, and the few remaining images are gathering digital dust at the bottom of your ex-roommate’s Timeline.

With Graph Search, those old pictures are suddenly much more accessible. Depending on how they’re tagged and captioned, a simple search query by a Facebook friend or colleague could bring them abruptly back to life. Suddenly, everything is discoverable, and it all depends on long-forgotten privacy selections just how public those old pictures and posts might be.

So what can a Facebook user do to make sure that old information doesn’t come to light? The simple answer is quite a lot, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.

The current version of Graph Search focuses on four main areas: people, photos, places and interests. The ‘people’ category is the easiest one to review. Just go to the About section on your Timeline and review your personal information. If you don’t want anyone to search for you based on a relationship status of ‘It’s Complicated,’ then you can change the status, leave it blank, or restrict who can see it.

As you review your personal information, make sure that you are comfortable with all your interests, religious and political views, and anything else that might be searchable. Remember, if the public can view it, they can search for it, so make sure your audience selections are part of your review.

The other way Graph Search can capture your interests is through your ‘Likes.’ You can review these by clicking on Likes on your Timeline and then scrolling to the bottom of the page. Here you will find your Likes grouped by year. If you want to remove a Like, just mouse over the relevant icon and a new window will open. Move your mouse to Liked and you will have an option to Unlike.

With places and photos, it becomes harder. There is no magic button or universal privacy setting that will prevent all past check-ins or photos from being discoverable. Instead, it’s a case of going back over every single item you don’t want to be searchable and either deleting it, changing the tags and captions, or varying who can view it. Even if you have hidden something on your Timeline, it will still be discoverable under Graph Search. Use the Activity Log to review all your posts, including the ones you have hidden.

Even if you delete a photo, there is no guarantee that it won’t be discoverable elsewhere on Facebook. If the photo was originally posted by someone else and you don’t want it to be searchable, then you will have to send that person a request to remove it.

Although this early version of Graph Search is limited, it’s clear that everything on Facebook will eventually be searchable. That will include posts, actions under Open Graph apps (e.g. listening to a song), and maybe even comments. It’s also possible that Graph Search will include Instagram, the popular photo social network which is owned by Facebook.

Graph Search is yet another reminder that everything we post on Facebook – and elsewhere on the Internet – is far more accessible than we think, and we need to be very careful about what we do or say on social networks. Although mistakes may eventually fade from memory, they can come back to haunt you at any time.

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