Why it is time to check your profile privacy on Facebook

Martin Brinkmann
Jan 29, 2013
Updated • Jan 4, 2018
Companies, Facebook

Facebook launched Graph Search recently for a select elite and a limited number of users in the US (Update: also select users in other countries). It is a different type of search that anyone can use to combine related public information in search. You can search for single women who live nearby and like to get drunk, married friends who like escort services or photos of friends who fly to Thailand every year.

Graph Search searches public information on Facebook as well as information that have been shared with you specifically. If you are someone's friend and that someone makes available a message to all friends, it is included in Graph Search.

Facebook has been criticized for Graph Search even though it is only a different way of searching contents that are already available on the site. The connections you can make are new and improved, but it is theoretically possible to find those out on your own. It will take longer that is for sure, but you would come up with the same end results.

Graph Search may have a positive effect on user privacy on Facebook. While I can't speak for all users, it seems that many tend to reveal information about themselves or friends without thinking about consequences of those actions. Graph Search may be the steam hammer that some Facebook users need to understand how the public or friends can use the data they post to profile them.

facebook graph search

The only viable option to protect yourself from being included in Graph Search results that may be embarrassing, humiliating or life threatening is to make sure that you only share information on Facebook that you are comfortable with. You may ask yourself questions like "would I be comfortable if [insert person name here] would know about that" before you post something on the site. Replace person with mother, father, husband, wife or child for instance to come to that decision.

Facebook has published a new blog post entitled protecting your privacy in Graph Search that addresses some of the privacy related issues of Graph Search. The post addresses several frequently asked questions:

  • How do I control what information shows up about me in Graph Search
  • How do I control the audience of my likes
  • Can people see things about my friends through Graph Search
  • How do I view and control what photos of me are on Facebook

So, what I'd recommend you do, is check your profile for information that you have shared publicly or with friends, to remove access rights if necessary. Here are a couple of links to get you started with that:

  1. Activity Log - This lists all of your activities on Facebook
  2. Review photos - You shared or have been tagged in
  3. About - Information that you reveal about yourself on the about page.

Tutorials & Tips

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  1. Peter said on January 29, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    What do you think of this Martin would it protect me ?


    1. Martin Brinkmann said on January 29, 2013 at 7:52 pm

      Looks like a nice service. I personally would not use it but that is mainly because I have strict rules what I post online and what I do not.

  2. Pablo said on January 29, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    “You can search for single women who live nearby and like to get drunk, married friends who like escort services or photos of friends who fly to Thailand every year.”

    Martin, that was an unfortunate sentence, loaded with a holier-than-thou attitude. I expect better from you.

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on January 29, 2013 at 7:49 pm

      I wanted to make a point and you can’t make a point for privacy with something mundane. So, photos from friends who visited new york may be nice, but this is not something that people will consider a privacy issue.

      I’m also not sure I understand the holier than thou attitude remark as those are actual things you can use Graph Search for.

      My intention with this post was to raise awareness not tell anyone what they can or can’t do on Facebook. If you do not have a issue posting about your private life openly then go ahead, fine by me.

    2. Nebulus said on January 29, 2013 at 7:23 pm

      I think Martin was inspired in this post by other blogs/articles that float around on the internet, hence the reference to “single women who live nearby and who are interested in men and like getting drunk”. There are some screenshots online with search examples that contain exactly that phrase :)

      1. Pablo said on January 30, 2013 at 1:36 am

        OK, I understand those are maybe clichés, but Martin could have chosen other examples. Instead, but choosing those, he made it sound as if every single woman who likes to get drunk would be stalked by every pervert in their neighborhood, who learned about that through facebook. And every married man who uses escort services (women very seldom do, compared to men) would be caught by their spouse through facebook. Those are possible but very unlikely scenarios (people are sometimes stupid, but usually not THAT stupid).
        I do agree that the new graph search in facebook poses some privacy and even personal security (I don’t completely agree on the “life-threatening” part) risks. But saying something like “families in the same city who like a holiday resort and stop posting in the same month every year” would have been a much more realistic, and less moralistic, example.
        Maybe I was over-sensitive to it, but I’m tired of hearing/reading the same self-righteous examples bandied about when talking about safety on facebook.

  3. Nebulus said on January 29, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    I think there is nothing sinister about Facebook’s new Graph Search, it is only a different way of accessing already existing information; so if you don’t want that information to be accessed using search, don’t post it.
    I talked a bit more about privacy on Facebook on my blog, but the phrase above sums it up pretty well :)

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on January 29, 2013 at 7:52 pm

      I agree with you on that. It is just another way to search on Facebook. It can however raise awareness which I really like about it.

      1. Nebulus said on January 29, 2013 at 11:33 pm

        I agree. Raising awareness about Facebook privacy is really great!

  4. Lindsay said on January 29, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    Hold on, what’s facebook?

    1. feesbok said on January 29, 2013 at 1:04 pm

      facebook is that database where you can check how fat is your ex gf ; better than coffee in the morning

  5. Ernestas said on January 29, 2013 at 11:49 am

    Why “elite in the US”? I’m from Eastern Europe and I also have the new Graph Search…

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on January 29, 2013 at 11:51 am

      According to Facebook’s own page is is only rolling out in the US and on an invite basis. Have updated the sentence to reflect that.

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