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After Facebook Graph Search announcement, new discussion of privacy

Facebook has released a new semantic search engine called Graph Search. So what does that mean for Facebook users? 

By Matthew Shaer / January 18, 2013

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg listens to a question after introducing a new feature called Graph Search during a media event at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., on Jan. 15.

Reuters

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Earlier this week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took the wraps off a Facebook search feature called Graph Search, which harnesses data from your friends' feeds and turns all of Facebook into one giant recommendation engine. Want tips on the best Chinese restaurant within walking distance of your apartment? Done. Want to find Star Wars fans in your area? You can have that too. 

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"You can find people based on things they've shared with you, including their interests and profile info," Facebook reps wrote on the Graph Search promo page. "You'll see results for friends who share their city with you, people whose city is set to Public, and suggested results based on info shared with you." 

Facebook has been extremely careful to stress that Graph Search will not fundamentally affect user privacy: Folks who have zealously guarded their personal information in the past can continue to do so once the new search engine is fully up and running. (It's in beta now.) But as Josh Wolford notes over at WebProNews, it's not quite as simple as that. 

Here's Wolford: 

You probably don’t know this, but as of now, you are unable to opt out of being featured in Facebook search results. You used to be able to do this, but as of mid-December, this option has been taken away from you... What Facebook has done is disallow users to remove themselves from search a month before releasing a giant new product that relies on user visibility in search. For the Graph Search to be useful to anyone, people have to appear in the results. When I search “people who went to Harvard and like The Winklevoss Twins,” I expect to turn up at least some results from people whose info is set to public, or “friends of friends.” Well played, Facebook.

So what's a privacy-minded user to do? Well, Business Insider has a step-by-step guide to shoring up your account – it's worth reading in full. Alternatively, of course, you could just give in to the machine. 

As Josh Constine notes in a long piece over at TechCrunch, by introducing Graph Search, Facebook has done something really clever: it's made non-sharers look downright selfish. "If you share openly, you share for the benefit of mankind," Constine writes. "And when you don’t, or share to just a few people, you’re robbing the world of your knowledge, recommendations, and content." 

The whole thing, Constine continues, "redefines our relationship with the Facebook share box. There’s suddenly a reason to share even if you can’t immediately foresee how or to who it will be valuable." 

Thomas Claburn of Information Week agrees. Graph Search, he writes, "might encourage Facebook users to share more information about themselves and their affinities, in order to make social search more useful for their friends and for themselves. Being invisible on Facebook could impose an opportunity cost." 

As for people who don't love to share on Facebook, well, they may find themselves simply left behind. 

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