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January 30, 2013

Facebook Graph Search – Google Threat or Internet Joke?

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The possibility of a Facebook search engine has been giving Google the sweats for quite some time now. The search giant may be the most powerful Internet company in the world, but Zuck and Co. have something that it needs more than anything: mountains of valuable personal user data.

Big G has long feared that Facebook would eventually figure out a way to harness that info to create a superior search product, and it appears that day has finally arrived. When Facebook unveiled Graph Search last week, it was heralded as a revolution for the search industry. Fast forward a week, a few floggings from high-profile news outlets, and a Tumblr parody account, and Facebook’s supposed “game-changer” is shaping up to be more like a bad Internet meme.

A Different Kind of Search Experience

Facebook’s plan was to build a new kind of search for the web: a multidimensional tool that would hunt down people, places, and things for users based upon complex query strings. Bloomberg Businessweek reported Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s explanation of Graph Search during the new feature’s unveiling in a press event last week:

“In general, Web search is designed to take any open-ended query and return to you links that may have answers to the question that you might be trying to ask. Now, Graph Search is very different. Graph Search is designed to take a precise query and return to you the answer, not links to other places where you might get the answer.”

Zuck also noted that Facebook teamed up with Bing to create Graph Search, and the two tech titans designed it to answer queries about people, places, and things. Users can search using a variety of filters, such as “liked by” or “place type.” Here’s a couple of example searches that Facebook offers up for users on its official promo:

* “Restaurants in London my friends have been to”
* “People who like cycling and are from my hometown”

Sounds pretty cool, right? Yea, it did – but then came the Tumblr account.

Graph Search? There’s a Meme for That

Heads up, Facebook: it’s kind of hard to invent a search engine capable of compiling and categorizing billions of pieces of data overnight – yes, even when you’ve got Bing in the driver’s seat. Just ask Google – it’s been around since the ’90s and it’s still ironing out the kinks.

Yesterday, reality slapped Facebook in a very public (and quite humiliating) way. ‘Actual Facebook Graph Searches‘ – a Tumblr parody account started by a guy named Tom Scott – surfaced and immediately went viral. Every news outlet from CNET to Forbes covered the story, and Facebook now has some serious publicity problems to mitigate.

In a write-up about the fiasco published yesterday, Forbes highlighted the worst of the worst from the blog thus far. According to the article, some real Graph searches that actually yielded results (yikes!) included these gems:

* “Current employers of people who like Racism”

* “Spouses of married people who like [cheat-on-your-partner
dating site] Ashley Madison”

* “Family members of people who live in China and like [the
very very banned] Falun Gong”

* “Islamic men interested in men who live in Tehran, Iran”

* “People who like Focus on the Family [anti gay marriage]
and Neil Patrick Harris [very gay and due to be married
with kids]”

* “Single women who live nearby and who are interested in men
and like Getting Drunk”

* “Mothers of Catholics from Italy who like Durex”

Wow. Just imagine what kind of trouble people could get into if their name were to pop up in the results for queries like those. Now imagine if the searchers happened to be spouses, family members, or even worse – employers.

Double yikes.

So Google’s been sweating it out for nothing – in a mere week’s time, Facebook’s Graph Search has morphed from groundbreaking web innovation into a drinking game that college students will play on Friday nights.

Good grief.

Internet: please put us out of our misery and queue the Graph Search memes.

Takeaway for Users: Check Those Privacy Settings

If reading this has caused you to become fearful that your own Facebook page will show up in a list of questionable Graph Search results: good. I’ve accomplished my mission. Regarding privacy on Facebook, you’d be best served not by my words, but those of the Tumblr account’s creator himself:

These People Aren’t Stupid
Many people get a bit more savvy as a result of this; most likely, they won’t. The people showing up here aren’t stupid; they just don’t have the knowledge required to be safe. If I took my car to a garage for tune up and disreputable mechanic could fleece me for unwanted repairs and I never know about it that doesn’t make me stupid it just means my knowledge is in other areas.

Graph search jokes are good way of startling people into checking their privacy settings – but most people will never actually be affected by accidentally making data ‘public’. (Of course for the unlucky ones it won’t be again worth taking.)

Most of the danger online comes not from strangers making half-assed jokes about search; it comes from people who know you. A lot of public data fails what I call the ‘bitter ex test’: can someone who hates you ruin your life with that information?

The takeaway from all this is that you need to visit Facebook’s Graph Search help pages and educate yourself about your privacy options. Adjust your existing setting to reflect the level of privacy you may have thought you had already. And do it ASAP: Facebook will be rolling out Graph Search to every member of the site imminently.

As the Forbes piece notes, the Graph isn’t unintentionally broadcasting its users’ private information. People were already Liking and sharing the very things that will land them in the search results – and your history never goes away. Facebook has simply added a way to classify that data and spit it back out to, well… everyone you know (or even just kind of know).

Remember, the Internet never forgets. The more adept services on the web become at organizing your data, the more you’ll want to protect your personal info and activity online. Bottom line: don’t do anything online that you wouldn’t want your wife or boss (or a jury) to see. If Graph Search tells us anything about the Internet’s future, it’s that someday, they inevitably will.


Nell Terry is a tech news junkie, fledgling Internet marketer and staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs. She thrives on social media, web design, and uncovering the truth about all the newest marketing fads that pop up all over the ‘net. Find out more about Nell by visiting her online portfolio at ‘Content by Nell.

18 Responses to “Facebook Graph Search – Google Threat or Internet Joke?

    avatar Rybird says:

    I saw that and closed my Facebook account without hesitation. They intend on data mining personal data and they will. I know how they think and operate and it’s not in the users’ interest.
    The general consensus among my friends is they understand, but are not worried about it and are staying. I don’t’ have anything to hide, but I want privacy at the same time. I found somewhere else better to socialize.

    avatar Troy Johnson says:

    Interesting article. I’ve stopped posting personal stuff on Facebook sometime ago myself and use it mostly for promoting my business. I’ve also noticed that my newsfeed has very little real content — it is overwhelmingly advertisements.

    avatar Greg says:

    This is going to ruin A lot of lives, integrity is A must from here on out. If you don’t want the world to know your dirty little secrets be very careful with what you do and say…. Greg Neucopia

    avatar Rybird says:

    Be careful where you say it. You might tell a friend you have diabetes, but not want every company and he whole world knowing it. Being private has nothing to do with dirty little secrets. If you have those you need to tell someone in private so they are a secret anymore.

    Facebook Graph Search is being new challenges for other top search engines. it help to more engage in facebook and will downsize the traffics of other search engines.

    avatar Steven says:

    Anyone could have seen Facebook turning in the search engine direction however the type of search engine they’re trying to create is ludicrous. I’ve always hated Facebook because it gets to personal well now it appears they’re attempting to take things a step further.

    People keep talking about governments in our lives but no one talks about how much information Facebook has about people all over the world. Whats worse is kids born after in the late 90′s won’t know a world without Facebook and will trust Facebook with all of their private information.

    I’ve always hated Facebook and I still do! Facebook wasn’t built for advertising and every step it takes to become more advertiser friendly is step further they take into peoples personal lives! I thought my generation was naive but I feel very sorry for this generation.

    avatar Barb says:

    “I’ve always hated Facebook because it gets to personal…”

    This is why I don’t have an FB account. Many of the questions asked were totally none of their business and could make one ripe for ID theft. So, I never opened an account.

    avatar Romy says:

    Due to facebook graph search, Google will probably make Google+ even more important factor for SEO

    avatar Damo says:

    OK, so we have now been warned. Time to check the privacy settings although we should all take more care with what we publish to the internet.

    avatar Brian says:

    Maybe it’s not working yet for me, but following the first example that Facebook give, i searched for “My friends who live in Scotland”.

    One result – someone i don’t know who lives in Calcutta, India!!!

    avatar BlokeToys says:

    Damn, and there I was thinking Google might finally be less powerful as a result of a bigger pool of options!

    I find it astounding that FB hadn’t really thought about this and considered the way it could be abused by just anyone.

    There are ways for more savvy searchers to dig up personal information on individuals using Google, but FB has just made stalking and the possibility for abuse of personal information as easy as looking for a number in a phone book.

    I left FB in the New Year. I’ve not closed my account yet, just chosen not to participate for a while. I think I might be going to close it this afternoon after reading this.

    avatar Greatsol says:

    Google plus is already playing a important role in seo for Google Search Engine.

    avatar devraaj says:

    I think Google Plus is not much beneficial because google + and facebook services are same but mostly people using facebook and google plus is complected for common man.

    Wonder if the FB version will display private info at some point. That seems to be their “talent”.

    Very interesting too see those changes in search. As soom everybody’s thinking wheels was finaly re-invented with success, then FB cames and prove us the rule still rules! I think as soon those info pops up into regular users faces we will see a mass movement of FB accounts cancelations! What a time to live, this 21st century!

    avatar Robert says:

    I really don’t think that Facebook search engine can take over Google’s. Just like Google Plus haven’t been able to take over Facebook so far. That ain’t gonna happen. At least not so soon.

    avatar Nina says:

    The bottom-line is that people should be very careful what information they put out there in face book or in any other social media

    All this is saying is that if you search for rubbish, you wil find rubbish – and if you put your sensitive personal information on the Internet, you can never tell who will find it. This has been the case since Alta Vista.

    The word “graph” – joined with the words “knowledge”, “search” or “social” implies the use of the middle bit of the word demographics – but at first both Google and Facebook were talking pure mathematics – “a graph is a representation of a set of objects where some pairs of the objects are connected by links. The interconnected objects are represented by mathematical abstractions called vertices, and the links that connect some pairs of vertices are called edges. (Wikipedia) – that is all.

    Google is well along this route, but has time to get their at together – Facebook must get the news out quick and the dirty dancing publicity is helping.

    What we need to consider is that this is now seen to be an important shift in the way information will be discovered (as opposed to being searched for) – us finding through social feedback rather than by scratching at a Boolean mish-mash.

    I wonder when Amazon will join the fray? :)

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