Lovers of privacy, be warned: Facebook is rolling out its Graph Search feature to U.S. users starting today … a staggered release that will see Facebook users able to access the tool over the next few weeks.
Of course, if you’re a real privacy lover, you’re probably not on Facebook anyway.
The new Graph Search, unveiled back in January, is touted as a natural-language social search tool that will delve into Facebook information to find out answers to questions such as “Who are my friends who like fried chicken?” or “Which of my friends are studying for exams this week?”
If social graph doesn’t have the answer, then a partnership between Facebook and Bing will deliver Web results to fill in the gaps.
Almost immediately after its release, critics raised concerns about potential privacy abuses for the tool, which can be configured to search for just about any search term you can think of. Just ask Tom Scott, author of the popular “Actual Facebook Graph Searches” Tumblr blog last January that demonstrated with humorous and sometimes chilling effect how such searches could be abused.
“Spouses of Married People Who Like Ashley Madison,” for example, just cries out with humor from the awkward explanations that are sure to follow (Ashley Madison is an extramarital affair dating site, in case you’re not familiar). Not to mention the failed marriages and potential blackmail options.
“Islamic men interested in men who live in Tehran, Iran,” on the other hand, would probably just get people killed.
The denizens of Facebook will have no one to blame but themselves if Graph Search outs something embarrassing about them. A lack of understanding of Facebook’s Byzantine privacy policies will lead many unsuspecting people who thought their information was private to discover very much otherwise, coupled with the very simple fact that they were the ones who posted such information about themselves in the first place.
The impact on Facebook is as yet unknown, since only a few beta testers have used Graph Search to date. But if Facebook is counting on the lack of public outrage that seems to have accompanied the leaking of government surveillance projects recently, they may be in for a shock.
Government warrantless spying? Sure, no problem. But embarrass someone on Facebook? That, sadly, may be worthy of outrage.