Facebook Graph Search: What It Means For You

Facebook recently announced Graph Search, a natural language search platform allowing you to query the mind-bogglingly vast amounts of data that have been “shared with you” on the social network.

Of course in the context of Facebook “shared with you” means “stuff you can see” whether shared directly with you or just inadequately protected, as is most often the cause. In the vast majority of cases you would never see all the data which is actually visible to you on Facebook, sometimes because Facebook tries to anticipate what you will find interesting and edits your News Feed accordingly, but mostly because you simply don’t know it’s there. Graph Search is set to change all that!

Natural language queries, for example “People who like Llamas and live in Kentucky” or “Anarchists who still live with their mum” will almost certainly turn up data you would never otherwise have seen.

Data which is visible to you includes of course information shared directly with you by your friends, but also information shared by friends of friends, information shared with a restricted audience but where one of your friends has been tagged and anything shared publicly.

“Information” covers literally everything that Facebook users have entered into their profiles and timelines, status updates, check-ins, personal information, photographs, employment information, personal preferences, the works.

Think about it this way, if a Facebook user takes a photo and makes it public, and you get tagged in that photo, then anyone searching for photos of that location will be able to see that picture and your association with it. If you liked the look of a stranger you saw in a bar recently then maybe “Women in Rothera who drink in the the Dog & Corset” will help you track down the object of your affections, and all this without ever having to speak to her.

There are some steps you can take to lock down your personal information and how widely information about you is shared before Graph Search is introduced. Now is the time to review your Facebook privacy settings, you may be surprised to learn that the layout and available options have changed yet again.

Click this link, which will take you to your Facebook Privacy Settings (if you are logged in) make sure that you have restricted the visibility of future posts to your preferences, I would recommend a minimum of “Friends” and then use the Activity Log to review all of the posts and other things in which you have been tagged, removing any tags you wish.

Once that’s done, use the Who can look me up? section to control how visible your personal information and profile is. I would heartily recommend disallowing search engines from linking to your timeline and allowing only Friends to look up your profile.

Now click on the Timeline and Tagging section over on the left. Use this section to restrict who can post on your timeline. It is also advisable to enable reviewing of posts you are tagged in before they appear on your timeline. Remember though, these posts will still show up elsewhere, whether you allow them on your own timeline or not.

In the section Who can see things on my timeline? there are a couple of really critical options that only become visible if you dig a little deeper. In Who can see posts you’ve been tagged in on your timeline? choose Custom and you will notice that as well as restricting the content to Friends only, you can also restrict certain people or lists from seeing that content if necessary.

Perhaps most importantly, hidden away in Who can see what others post on your timeline? again if you choose the Custom option is a very handy little checkbox. By default, any tagged content is being shared not only with you and your friends, but also with ALL Friends of those tagged. You can pretty much guarantee there will be a lot of people that you don’t know looking at those photos. Yes, those photos. Uncheck that box.

In the bottom section is the rather ambiguous sounding When you’re tagged in a post, who do you want to add to the audience if they aren’t already in it? Do you want all of your friends to automatically see any post in which you are tagged? Normally I’m guessing not. Set this option to “Only me“.

Finally, on your own Facebook profile page, click the “Likes” box, click the “Edit” button and set each section to “Only me”.

Of course Facebook are only doing this to allow more of us to find the things we are actually looking for, but sometimes the things that someone is looking for are not the same as the things that you want them to know. If you remove the context, you remove yourself from the search results.

As Solutions Architect for Trend Micro, Rik Ferguson interacts with CIOs from a wide variety of blue chip enterprises, government institutions, law enforcement organisations. Recognised as an industry thought leader and analyst, Rik is regularly quoted by the press on issues surrounding Information Security, Cybercrime and technology futures. With over 15 years experience in the IT Industry with companies such as EDS, McAfee and Xerox Rik’s broad experience enables him to have a clear insight into the challenges and issues facings businesses today.