Actual Facebook Graph Searches are actually terrifying

Facebook’s new Graph Search hasn’t rolled out to all of the social network’s one billion users yet, but a new meme shows the privacy horrors that awaits us when it does.

Actual Facebook Graph Searches is a blog with a simple premise. You use the new (and evidently very powerful) search engine to find people living in ironic situations, based on their relationship status, location, and their likes. For instance, a search for “People who like Focus on the Family [an anti gay rights organisation]and Neil Patrick Harris [TV’s Barney from How I Met Your Mother, and a prominent gay actor]” has more than 100 results. Oh, the chuckles.

Other searches, however, are less humorous and more terrifyingly open to abuse by governments and corporations.

Search for “Married people who like prostitutes”, and not only will you find married people who like prostitutes, but information on their spouses, friends, and family. A search for “Islamic men interested in meeting men who live in Tehran, Iran” shows several hundred results from the strict Muslim country, right alongside those mens’ photos, and where they’ve worked. 

When Graph Search was announced a week ago, Facebook said the search engine was developed with privacy in mind. Graph Search only has access to information already made public by users, says Facebook.

Sean Lyons, chief technology officer at cybersafety watchdog NetSafe, says Graph Search might be a wake up call to New Zealanders who were previously blase about their online privacy.

“Graph Search is getting a lot of press, and people are shocked at what it can do. Now is a great time for people to click on the cog in the corner of the site, and change their privacy settings,” says Lyons.

The Graph Search meme blog was created by UK comedian and technology commentator Tom Scott. It’s not the first time Scott has poked fun at the social media giant, his Soul Compare website lets users evaluate the worthiness of their spirits from the comments they’ve made on their Facebook timeline.

In a recent blog post, Scott says he’s not trying to make any grand point about Facebook’s privacy policy, instead he is merely pointing out how easy it is to glean information about people who use the social network.

“Facebook does have good privacy settings, but there are many, many people who don’t know how to use them,” says Scott.

Scott’s advice to Facebook users is simple, “If it’d be awkward if it was put on a screen in Times Square, don’t put it on Facebook.”

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