Remember "liking" a group on Facebook called, "Big Booty Rules?" You will... when someone uses Graph Search to find it... and you.
The biggest news in the tech world last week was Graph Search: Facebook's first true attempt at search. It's an "inside baseball" name for a very interesting search tool. Graph Search is not a web search, but rather a people search: you're able to enter phrases in regular English (like "my friends in California who like pizza") and Graph will show you relevant results. Graph Search currently focuses on photos, people, places and interests, but Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said it will expand to cover more areas soon.
Graph Search is only in beta right now and available exclusively on the Web version of Facebook, but soon each and every one of Facebook's billion users will be able to find friends and others around the world who like any given topic.
Want to compile a list of all your Facebook friends who have two heads, eat their young on Thursdays and are Martian? It's easier than ever, thanks to Graph Search.
We've Got Work to Do -- Serious, Real Work!
Joking aside, what this means is that each and every one of us is going to have to spend hours sorting through our Activity Log sooner rather than later, making sure nothing that we're not ready for the world to see is on there. Isn't this exactly how you wanted to spend this weekend? You know the scariest part? There's no way to opt out. (Perhaps a Homeland marathon is in order... this may take a while.)
Why Activity Log Rather Than Your Timeline?
Because just deleting something from your Timeline doesn't really delete it! Go to Settings, Privacy Settings, Use Activity Log. Sorry: it's the only way.
Why Can't I Opt Out?
About a month ago, Facebook made a tiny change that made it impossible for users to opt out of search. At the time, it didn't mean much -- you could lock your profile down and still fly pretty much below the radar. But now, that subtle tweak is a lot more insidious. Zuckerberg said that privacy is of the utmost importance (Is this the first time he's ever said that?) and that only the content you've shared with friends, friends of friends or the public will be found in Graph Search.
But what about that picture of you and a group of friends from New Year's after you've had a little too much to drink? You hid it from your timeline, but did you actually delete it? Did your remove the tag? The friends you're with in that picture are still tagged... and now their friends can find that photo in Graph Search.
Suddenly, we need to become experts of our Activity Log.
Facebook says we're going to be able to review our Activity Log before Graph Search goes worldwide. You better get started on that right away; otherwise, you're going to be in a world of fun.
What Will You Be Known For?
I "like" about 100 things on Facebook. I have Facebook friends who like thousands of things. Maybe 999 of those things are innocuous, but what about that band you liked in college that made the news after sacrificing a live rabbit at one of their shows? Do you want to be associated with that?
Within hours of the announcement, Gizmodo had already culled together a list of people who are now sharing horrible things about themselves thanks to Graph Search. Don't let yourself become known for liking a page you thought was funny a long time ago, but in retrospect is inappropriate or offensive.
So... What Do I Do About This?
- Make sure your default preference is to share with friends only -- this cuts down access to your interests and photos most dramatically.
- Go through your likes with a fine-toothed comb. Make sure anything you're not 100 percent behind is un-liked.
- Untag the photos you don't like. Request inappropriate photos be taken down.
What Else Does This Mean?
It just became a lot easier for advertisers to create targeted marketing. Going back to that earlier example, when you searched for friends in California who like pizza, between Jack and Jill's pages is an ad for California Pizza Kitchen. How convenient, and how profitable for Facebook! Our searches, our profiles and our lives have become cheap, endless data pools for companies around the world.
Creepiness Times Ten
To bring the scare factor to a whole other level, maybe you'll remember that back in September, Facebook started tracking and logging each and every one of your searches. (Google has been doing this for years, so don't get your knickers in a knot.) The search data was never made public -- it's there as a record for you, if you'd ever want it for some reason -- but many Facebook users were shocked to see the list of friends they've "stalked" show up so naturally.
The Huffington Post has the easiest way for you to purge your history:
To review your search history, go to your Facebook profile, navigate to the "Activity Log" button on the right-hand side of the page, click the "Search" tab in the column on the left-hand side of the page and gasp in horror. (To find the "Search" tab, you may need to click "More" under the section that begins with "Photos.") You can delete individual queries or clear the search activity by clicking "Clear Searches" at the top of the page.
It's amazing -- awe-inspiring, actually -- how much Facebook stores about each of us. Remember: data is more valuable in the presence and context of other data. There will be logs of everything we do forever. So, if you put it on the Internet, it'll be available forever. New words to live by: "Like at your own risk."
Don't get trapped. Protect yourself and your reputation. Take control of your Facebook today. Thanks, Zuck. This is exactly how I wanted to spend my first weekend getting home after CES.