The Privacy Guide to Facebook's New Graph Search

Like all things Facebook, the social network's new Graph Search will certainly generate privacy worries — the main function of the "third pillar" of Facebook is pretty much creeping, after all. Indeed, while CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in announcing the social-search tool Tuesday that the new product was built as "privacy aware," the social network is also touting the ability Graph Search's ability to find things you like and meet new people, based entirely on data you've been sharing before this thing existed. Zuckerberg even suggested Facebook could turn into a kind of dating service as people met friends with similar interests — not exactly comforting if a too-clever Graph Searcher stumbles upon your old spring-break photo because you forget to check the right boxes all over again. From a new set of opt-out options to just how much of your preferences are now searchable — and sellable — here's everything you need to know about protecting yourself from the many advances of Graph Search.

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There Is No Way to Opt Out

About a month ago Facebook made a little tweak to its privacy policy, where it no longer allowed users to opt out of the search function, which was pretty weak and didn't seem like a big deal. Today that move makes a lot more sense. The only way to avoid your information from showing up in Graph Search will involve changing the privacy settings on everything you share, comment on, and like — like, ever. "For every post you shared, there's an option so you can share this publicly, or with friends, or only me. For each item you basically have the control over what audience that's shared with," Tom Stocky, one of the lead Graph Search senior engineers, told Nightline's David Wright and Joanna Stern. Facebook has made managing that kind of stuff easier, with the Activity Log, and the new Graph Search privacy page offers familiar privacy options. But still, going back and changing it all will take some effort. 

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Private Information Stays Private

Although Facebook has access to all the data you've shared, regardless of who we have shared that with, Graph Search does not exploit that function. Things shared with "just friends" will stay that way, as this Facebook video explains:

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So, if you share something with just friends, it will only show up in friends' Graph Search results. Of course, when you first created these settings, you probably had no idea that Facebook would use it for a social-search function. So now might be a good time to go back and change which media you share with which kind of people, while Graph Search is still in beta. The video above explains how to go do that, via the Activity Log and the About section, while you still have time.

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Photos Are Less Private 

With the addition of Graph Search, Facebook users don't have as much control over who sees which photos. If someone else uploads an inappropriate photo of you — or an awkward bikini shot, or something you wouldn't want your mom seeing — then you can hide it from your Timeline. But that doesn't remove it from the uploader's Timeline, so that photo will still show up in a Graph Search for you. Which leaves you with two solutions: You can untag the photo so it won't show up in regular search results associated with your name (though savvy/creepy searchers will no doubt learn how to start Graph-Searching for inappropriate photos as well), or you can get drastic and ask your friend to take down the photo altogether (which Facebook has a button for, so there's no awkward messaging required).

Everything Is More Accessible

When we first shared our lives on Facebook, this kind of search tool based on preferences and similarities and human emotion just didn't exist. And so our concept of sharing was different, because we didn't know how our preferences would end up indexed. After the Graph Search announcement, however, personal details are much more accessible. You can find all the people you know in one easy search — something that took a lot more guess-and-check work before — and that change might make people uncomfortable. And comfort has a lot to do with the evolving boundaries of modern privacy: There are plenty of places where the law recognizes discomfort — it is a harm in its own right," Ryan Calo, an affiliate scholar for the Center for Internet and Society and and assistant law professor at the University of Washington, explained to The Atlantic Wire before the announcement.

Facebook Will Probably Sell Your Searches to Advertisers 

Zuckerberg did not elaborate on how Facebook will make money off Graph Search, emphasizing the "user experience," a line we've heard before. But, trust us: the ads are coming. Facebook already has sponsored posts that come up in the existing search results, as you can see to the right. But as Facebook's search power turns into more of a recommendation engine, Facebook could sell results. For example, if you Graph-Searched for Indian restaurants liked by people from India — an example suggested by Facebook at its announcement — you might see an ad for an Indian restaurant in the News Feed that same day. 

If any of that sounds contentious, complain about it on Facebook. Zuckerberg described the massive undertaking as still in beta for a reason — the social network wants to listen to user feedback before a full roll-out... or so it says. As usual, the only way to ensure total privacy is to opt out of Facebook altogether. 

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