What Does Facebook's Scary New Search Mean for You?

Facebook recently announced some changes that will allow you to do more with your account. Not surprisingly, this new feature, called Social Graph Search, is a little scary. Here's what's up.


Facebook's new Graph Search lets you search your "social graph" for specific people who like specific things. On the surface, obviously, that doesn't sound very exciting. However, imagine it this way: you can search for all married men who like football (or, for the bold, married men who play a more dangerous game) or Jewish friends who like bacon.

Because there can be some weird stuff on Facebook -- people liking "racism," folks who are virulently anti-something, Notre Dame fans -- it's hard to tell just what this new feature will do to our sense of privacy and, more importantly, how we will be able to keep our secrets safe when our desires are a click away.

Facebook is a storehouse of information on us. It knows our birthdays, the names of our significant others, and the names of our kids. It also knows we like to drink (maybe we "liked" a whiskey company), that we like a specific brand of ice cream, or that we were recently divorced. The danger, then, is two-fold.

First, we can see this new system as a new method for seduction (or worse). Remember when Bill Murray spent weeks learning about Andie MacDowell in the movie Groundhog Day? While his efforts to woo her with very specific facets of her personality failed comically, it could be easy for an unsuspecting person to be drawn in by another person who uses these searches to his or her advantage. After one Graph Search, someone could know enough about you to at least pique your interest.

Second, this system gives employers and governments new windows on our personalities. By showing up in a specific search -- say supporters of Occupy Wall Street -- you are immediately suspect.

This is obviously quite dystopian and very 1984, but Facebook has given us unparalleled access to amazing amounts of information. We need to make sure that information doesn't get into the wrong hands.

What can we do about this? Well, first check your privacy settings. It's unclear which settings will affect Graph Search until the feature is rolled out to all users later this year. However, it's probably a good idea reduce the amount of data you share with non-friends on the site.

Graph Search isn't the end of the world and it could, in fact, be quite fun. But, as with any new technology, there are still some dangers. Knowing about them and avoiding them is the key to online safety.

Does Facebook's new search tool worry you?

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