Facebook Graph Search is a Social Media Privacy Nightmare

Facebook has decided to index your private information and make it searchable by a wide range of people you probably didn’t envision as your audience when you originally posted. Unfortunately, this list includes identity thieves, stalkers, phishers, fraudsters and your ex-partner.

Whenever you log onto Facebook these days, your news feed is likely to be littered with announcements of every variety, political rants, links to news stories and those “repost this on 10 of your friends’ walls” threads.

Between those posts are ones in which your friends reach out to their friends to ask for advice. For example:

“Does anyone know a good wedding photographer?”
“What are the best Italian restaurants in Boston’s North End?”
“Just got Netflix and looking for new shows to watch. Any recommendations?”

This is part of the Facebook’s user experience.

It also happens to be fairly inefficient, which explains why Facebook just yesterday announced its new Graph Search function. Graph Search will be more personal than Google or Bing as it provides a detailed look into the information that you and your friends have shared on Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg said that Graph Search is designed to show you the answers to your questions, not hyperlinks that give you possible answers – a not-so-subtle shot at the perceived limitations of traditional search engines.

Of course, the catch is thatGraph Search also makes it easier for the information you shared willingly to be found by friends, friends-of-friends and others in your network. Posts and pictures that you assumed had been buried in the wasteland of Facebook under years of new content could resurface in a search. And if you haven’t taken the time to customize your privacy and security settings in Facebook (it takes at least 60 minutes, which is why you haven’t done it yet), you might be sharing your intimate details with strangers of all flavors.

Zuckerberg also made it a point to reference online privacy several times throughout the announcement, certainly keenly aware of mounting user concernsabout information contained on the social network – concerns that were there even before the Graph reveal.

You just need to know the specific privacy settings you’ve assigned to each aspect of your profile – likes, photos, personal information, locations you’ve been, how widely your posts are shared, who’s in your inner circle and what they are allowed to share about you without your consent.

Ironically, Facebook says it plans to send this message to users before Graph Search goes active: “Please take some time to review who can see your stuff.”That is both Facebook’s brilliance and our ignorance – Facebook knows that their average user won’t spend the time to get to know their privacy settings, so there is no risk by calling attention to it. The rest of us, the users, however, can no longer plead ignorance, as we know exactly what Facebook is doing – creating an inventory of our private data and behaviors to sell to an adoring advertising marketplace that rewards them with a bump in stock value.

If you don’t take responsibility for your digital footprint and how widely it will be affected by Facebook’s Graph Search, how can you expect Facebook to take responsibility?

John Sileo is an online privacy expert and keynote speaker on social media privacy, identity theft and fraud. His clients included the Department of Defense, Pfizer, and Homeland Security. See his recent work on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.