As details of Facebook's Graph Search unfolded this morning, users heaved a sigh of relief when they learned that Facebook would not be exposing our innermost privacies with its latest product -- the company would simply search the data we've already (willfully) shared and make it easily accessible to friends.
Your data. Easily accessible to friends.
In the new search bar, a Facebook user can search for something like, "Friends who like 'Star Wars' and cooking." Immediately, Facebook will dig through that user's friends' likes and interests to find relevant matches. Facebook doesn't magically know which of your friends like these things, it will simply use the data they provided.
But circa 2008, when Facebook introduced Pages that you could "Like" (like "drinking beer" and "Tyra Banks") you probably didn't think that those Likes would later transform into indexed bits of data used in a robust tool called Graph Search.
I bet you also didn't think that the songs you were listening to wouldn't just be shown in the Ticker (aka "Facebook in your Facebook"), and a fun little module on your Timeline, but would also be easily navigated by your friends.
These are just a couple examples of how Facebook will use the data you willfully surrendered to make its new search tool effective and accurate, but Graph Search goes beyond just Likes and music history. Everything -- I mean, everything -- you've shared with friends on Facebook will be contributed to the index.
- Shared data from apps you use, like Spotify (it's not yet used in Graph Search, but will be in the near future)
- Tagged photos, including those with associated locations and times
- Interests, like music, TV shows, and blogs
- Facebook check-ins
- Your "About" section, including career, relationship status, and religious or political views
No matter how subtle the piece of information, friends can and will dig it up using Graph Search.
It's easy to vilify Graph Search, but really, it's not all bad. In fact, most of it is great. Why not make it known that you love tennis, allowing other players to find you via Search? Or, why not let friends of friends know you're single, upping your chances of snatching a date?
Graph Search opens doors to exploring our social network in an entirely new fashion, an opportunity that will ideally translate into richer real-life interactions. (And not just advanced Facebook stalking techniques.)
The positive implications of Graph Search are plentiful, but it's still wise to approach the tool with caution, tidying up your privacy and content before the tool goes live to everyone.
So as the reality of the situation sinks in, now is a perfect time to adjust your privacy settings, and hide content you've shared in the past so that friends are only uncovering the personal information you're willing to share.
1. Comb through your Activity Log
Thanks to the Activity Log, a running feed of what you've done and what you've shared on Facebook is available at a glance. Since its launch, Facebook has refined the tool to make it even easier to use, allowing you to filter activity and content by different conditions.
To access your Activity Log, head to your profile and click the button just below your cover photo.
In the left sidebar, you can filter the log by category. When you select one, like "Your Posts" or "Likes," a list of associated content will appear, each with a corresponding privacy setting. In some cases, you can adjust the privacy setting by clicking on it. Other times, however, such as with Likes, the only way to hide the activity is by removing it (or un-Liking it).
One of the most useful options in the Activity Log can be found under "Photos." At the top, you have the option to filter the content by "Shared with," letting you view photos you've shared publicly or otherwise.
Take the time to go through your activity, adjusting the audience settings and removing content you'd rather not make searchable.
2. Limit the info apps are sharing
For the time being, Graph Search is not yet integrated with apps, but as the tool grows, activity from apps like Spotify and Rdio will be indexed and searchable.
If you'd rather not make this data available, adjust your app settings. From any Facebook page, click the lock icon next to "Home" in the top bar. Then select "See More Settings." In the left sidebar, select "Apps."
The middle column displays the audience that can see the activity from that application, like Public or Friends. If you don't want the activity to be searchable by anyone, but want the app to remain linked to your Facebook account, click "Edit" and change "Posts on your behalf" to "Only me."
3. Prune your Likes
When friends search for things like "Friends who like yoga and live in San Francisco," Facebook will use your Likes and Interests to populate the search results.
So, perhaps it's time to review the things you've Liked, assuming that maybe you don't want all your personal interests indexed after all.
To do so, head to your Timeline, and scroll down to the Likes module in the right column. Here, there are a couple of ways to adjust the privacy settings for Likes.
The first option is to actually go through and un-Like pages you'd rather not be associated with. That means going to each page and un-Liking it from the drop-down menu. The second option is to make an entire Like category (like Television or Music) completely private, preventing that data from being indexed.
If you choose the second option, click the Edit button at the top, and use the audience selection drop-down button to the right of each category. To make the likes completely private, choose "Only me."
4. Update your About Me section
Graph Search will undoubtedly open doors to using Facebook in new ways, like job recruiting. One of the ways employers will do this is by searching for things like "People who live in Seattle and have worked at Amazon." The only way a recruiter will be able to find you is if you have elected to share that information in the About section of your Timeline.
Beyond that, you might also want to review other things you share about yourself, like religious and political views, along with your relationship status and location.
As mentioned, Graph Search can be beneficial in many ways (like helping you be discovered by employers), but it's also important to make sure Facebook is indexing the data you're comfortable with.
5. Be more cautious in the future
It is more important than ever to be aware of what you're sharing, and how you're sharing it. Each time you Like a page, confirm that you're OK with having that association discovered. And when you share a link or add a new detail in your About Me section, take a moment to verify the audience settings.
Graph Search will make it easier for friends, friends of friends, and the public to discover you, so now's the time to clean up your profile and make sure you're only contributing the personal data you're willing to expose.
As mentioned, Graph Search is a positive addition to Facebook, so as you clean up your past posts and activity, don't hesitate to also add interests and likes, letting friends and acquaintances discover reasons to connect with you.