Why Facebook has expanded its search options

Public posts on Facebook will now be much easier to search, thanks to new and expanded options. But what does this mean for user privacy?

AP Photo/Paul Sakuma/File
In this Dec. 13, 2011 file photo, a sign with Facebook's "Like" logo is posted at Facebook headquarters near the office for the company's User Operations Safety Team in Menlo Park, Calif.

According to Facebook, more than 1.5 billion searches occur per day on the site, and more than 2 trillion posts have been made by users of the site.

This week, Facebook has introduced a new feature called “Search FYI,” which the company believes will make it much easier to find information across the social network.

Search FYI will not only make posts from close friends and family much more accessible, it will also enable users to find what strangers and organizations are saying about the same topics.

“When you search, you’ll now see the most recent, relevant public posts along with posts from your friends. Search results are organized to help you cut through the noise and quickly understand what the world is saying about a topic in the moment,” Tom Stocky, vice president of search at Facebook, wrote on the company’s official blog.

However, the feature does raise some privacy concerns. Though the feature will display only Facebook posts which were made public, users’ old public posts will be more visible than ever before. Facebook has said it will allow users who don’t want to be included in results to change it in their privacy settings. And users who are concerned about who can see what they post on the site should carefully examine Facebook's privacy settings.

Still, Facebook’s various changes to its settings, some of which have been introduced unannounced, continue to draw concerns how they either are or could be dissolving barriers to privacy in the online space.

In 2011, for example, Facebook settled charges with the Federal Trade Commission over allegations that it had made users’ information public without their knowledge. In 2013, Edward Snowden revealed in leaked documents that the National Security Agency (NSA) collects personal data from users’ public Facebook profiles, although the NSA claims that it keeps such electronic records for “no longer than five years in any event.”   

Europe has recently been critical of Facebook privacy practices. On October 6th, the European Court of Justice ruled in favor of Austrian privacy advocate Max Schrems, who expressed concern over the ease with which the United States government could access his personal information on Facebook under so-called "Safe Harbor" regulations.

The Safe Harbor Framework makes it possible for Facebook and other large technology companies to store information about consumers in Europe on American servers. Many worry that the information could end up in the hands of the US government. 

In the ruling, the court’s advocate general said that the ease with which US government officials can view Europeans’ personal information “constitutes an interference with the right to respect for private life and the right to protection of personal data.”

Facebook is taking pains to change this perception, however. Earlier this week, the company announced a new policy in which they would warn Facebook users whose data is suspected to be under government scrutiny.

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