Facebook Announces 'Universal Search.' Time To Check Your Privacy Settings

Every public post is now searchable.

Facebook's search feature just got a major upgrade.

The tool will now let people explore all public posts on the world's largest social network -- that's 2 trillion pieces of searchable content.

As Facebook Vice President of Search Tom Stocky explained in post on Thursday, Facebook is rolling out universal search across the entire network. "When something happens in the world, people often turn to Facebook to see how their friends and family are reacting," he wrote. "Today, we’re updating Facebook Search so that in addition to friends and family, you can find out what the world is saying about topics that matter to you."

Search is a potentially lucrative feature for Facebook to sell advertising against, just as Google does, combining the demonstrated interest of its users against the history of their actions on and off of Facebook. There's a lot of interest, too: Stocky says that Facebook users now make an estimated 1.5 billion searches every day. Expect that to rise.

When combined with Signal, Facebook's news-finding application, universal search could also deal a lethal blow to Twitter as the place the world turns to first for real-time news, as journalists and the public finally are able to instantly see what everyone is saying about a given topic.

It's also a big deal for Google. Zuckerberg wasn't kidding when he told investors last year that Facebook was going to compete directly with Google on search. This is precisely the competitive challenge that Google's executives anticipated years ago and led them to launch Google+.

The results aren't just a raw feed, any more than Google's results are or your Facebook Newsfeed is. Facebook is using what it knows about you and other people and news sources to customize what you'll discover.

As Stocky explained, these personalized results are segmented into posts from sources that Facebook regards as trusted (including verified members of the media, like yours truly), people in your network, popular posts and people you don't know.

There are limits, which will be important to fend off scrutiny from the Federal Trade Commission, which has had Facebook under a consent decree regarding user privacy for years. As Stocky noted, you won't be able to see updates that aren't public -- unless they've specifically been shared with you.

That said, this is a pretty dramatic shift. Just search for "hungover" on Facebook and you'll see how many people are sharing about their recent alcohol consumption in real time. Previously, users searching this term would have been able to see hangover-related status updates from just their friends.

What this means is that posts that were relatively private because they weren't easily findable are now truly public. With universal search, Facebook has removed “privacy by obscurity” -- which means that you should double check your privacy settings each time you post. Now, everyone is watching.