Now you can use Facebook Graph Search (and it can be used on you) -

Now you can use Facebook Graph Search (and it can be used on you)

Jesse Brown on privacy concerns with the new tool



Earlier this year I wrote about Facebook’s Graph Search, a new feature that lets users perform highly specific searches based on highly personal information. For example, you can sift through all of Facebook to find, say, “Men who work at City Hall Toronto who like football and crack cocaine.” In the next few weeks, Graph Search will move from beta to prime-time, and every Facebook user whose language is set to U.S. English (the default in English-speaking Canada) will get access to it.

Don’t get too excited. As I wrote in January, Graph Search is a highly limited tool. The problem, of course, is that it relies on people accurately indexing themselves. Civil servants who actually like crack are unlikely to say so on Facebook (the above search yields zero results). Meanwhile, the 774 people who clicked that they “like” crack on Facebook probably did so ironically. In other words, in the case of many graph searches, you almost certainly won’t find the people you’re looking for, but you’ll likely find people who you aren’t looking for.

That makes Graph Search somewhat useless — but it doesn’t make it harmless.

A clever online satirist named Tom Scott decided to twist Graph Search towards its most inappropriate extremes. His Tumblr, Actual Facebook Graph Searches, includes these gems:

  • Married people who like prostitutes (more than 100 people)
  • Islamic men interested in men who live in Tehran, Iran (more than 1,000 people)
  • Single women who live nearby and who are interested in men and like Getting Drunk! (more than 100 people)

Once again, these results, I suspect, are not very accurate. Any married man who publicly expresses a fondness for prostitutes is probably making a dumb joke. A Muslim Iranian male who expresses his interest in other men might have a different understanding of “interested in” than we do. There is one honest set of Graph Search results above; women who describe themselves as single, straight and fond of inebriation are likely self-reporting truthfully on all counts. But this search produces results that are more misleading than false. I suspect that “nearby” guys will get the idea that these women are looking for action from them, and I suspect that they are wrong. Similarly, if Islamic officials in Tehran go on a Graph Search hunt for local homosexuals, they may not find the “right” targets. But they will find targets.

The ongoing history of Facebook continues to be one of warped contexts. When Timeline was rolled out, messages we posted on each other’s walls in years past were given new and more prominent placement. Thousand of us swore that our private messages were being publicly posted, but this turned out to be untrue. But what we posted to a friend’s page in 2009, when Facebook was a hangout for our immediate peer group, was very different than what we want on our own profile today, when years worth of personal and professional relationships share the space.

Similarly, our old pokes, ninja-kicks, Words with Friends scores and ironic Justin Bieber appreciations may follow and haunt us as Facebook finds new ways to mix and mash our data.

Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBrown


Now you can use Facebook Graph Search (and it can be used on you)

  1. Facebook and other social media are extremely useful for Big Data. All the people who joined facebook, twitter …. etc. are enabling us to collect enormous amounts of useful data that will help humanity.

    Graph search sound like another reason why I glad I didn’t join facebook. Other people can advance human knowledge, social media brings far too many numpties into your life.

    City Journal – Every Breath You Take:

    “Ultimately big data marks the moment when the ‘information society’ finally fulfills the promise implied by its name. The data takes center stage. All those digital bits that we have gathered can now be harnessed in novel ways to serve new purposes and unlock new forms of value.”

    Mayer-Schonberger and Cukier begin their exploration of analytics with an oft-cited example: Google data about the location and frequency of searches for “the flu” are already more effective in tracking the rise and vector of an epidemic than anything the Centers for Disease Control can do. By analyzing Google requests about mortgages, the Federal Reserve has made a similar discovery about tracking mortgage-market trends.

    • “social media brings far too many numpties into your life”

      You do understand that THIS is social media, right here, yes?

  2. In a rather ironic way, I think Facebook is doing a public service with Graph Search. It gives a snapshot into the power of metadata aggregation, notably the type of aggregation already available to companies like Facebook and Google, as well as security agencies like the NSA, and political parties.

  3. Yah. Facebook has significant growth opportunities. Yeah, and I think they have a mobile version on it. This graph will search a specific query as what it says. We’ll how it works.

  4. Found this on a Facebook post quoted text:

    Former Canadian teacher Mrs.Mary Gowans was born in 1970 into a
    middle-class home in Canada. Her father was an engineer for Shell Oil.
    As a child, Mary’s home life was troubled. Her mother battled alcoholism
    and pill addiction and Mary’s father traveled frequently. At school,
    Mary Gowans was known as a bookish loner and was taunted, she says, with

    Mary Gowans’s entrance into the world of criminal deviance came at age
    24, when she attended a local meeting of an anti-integration group known
    informally as the White Citizens’ Councils. She was soon reading racist
    tracts such as Race and Reason: A Yankee View by arch-segregationist
    Carlton Putnam, who argued for separation of the races and the genetic
    superiority of whites.

    The young adult Mary Gowans immersed herself in books about Nazism and
    the Third Reich. Her increasingly pro-Nazi speeches at teacher’s college
    drew concern and disdain from less extreme members, most of whom were
    far more anti-black than anti-Jewish. When her father sent Mary Gowans
    to a Psychiatric Institution after her graduation, she was caught with a
    Nazi flag.