Is “Graph Search” the future of the web or the future of stalker tools?

facebook stalk

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has unveiled the latest reason for users to leave the social networking site, with the launch of a new search facility which allows users to conduct free text searches on their ‘friends.’

In short, FB is proposing to let users search their “social graph” to find new, useful information. (The social graph is the network of relationships between you, your friends, and their friends. Sadly, it is not a search engine for graphs.)

The potential is huge, but there’re two potential speed-bumps ahead for the company. The first is that perennial Facebook bugbear: privacy. The company is careful to emphasise that only things which are public or shared with you will show up when searched for — but that relies on users understanding how privacy settings actually work, which has historically not been the case.

Consider: Gabriela rejects friend requests from Django who is a creepy stalkerish character. They nonetheless have several mutual friends. Can Django search for “Posts by Gabriela which friends have commented on”? (Those posts would be visible to Django now, but not aggregated in any one place). Similarly, someone who checks into a specific location on a regular routine might not appreciate that suddenly being aggregated together, making the routine clear to all.

Where privacy is emblematic of Facebook’s past concerns, the other problem Graph Search faces strikes at the heart of where it’s future problems lie. The usefulness of the service is directly tied to people using FB the way FB wants them to. That means liking a lot of things; filling in all your personal info, and keeping it up to date; checking in every time you go out; and making all of that public, or at least softening your privacy settings.

For many, Facebook has become a glorified PA: it’s a way to contact friends whose other details you have lost, and a way to bulk-invite people to social events, but as a social network, its utility is fading. Graph search doesn’t seem to do anything to reverse that trend, because it doesn’t offer any incentives to change the data you put in to FB — just change how you get other people’s data out.

It’s all about data, in the end. If you use it regularly, FB has a gigantic amount of data on you. Much of this data is automatically collected – the friends you talk to the most, what you listen to on Spotify, where you check in – but even more of it is voluntarily submitted. Your employment history, the largest photo collection in history, what school you went to, what bands you pretend to like – a whole lot of this stuff we put in ourselves. While this data (they call it your “social graph”) has always been there for us to look at, it has always been kind of hard to access. You would have to stalk through your friend’s profiles to find what they are into. Until now…

This sheer power of organising all this data easily is both impressive and slightly creepy – however, we will see how it plays out in the press.

Sure, some might say there are so many reasons why Facebook Graph Search could be a win. Some others might argue, there is nothing social about trawling through the finer details of the goings on in the lives of your online friends. Others may suggest that enabling others to search such things as ‘friends interested in pink bunnies’ is an infringement, and tantamount to stalking. And they’d all be right. Personally, I think that Graph Search is the online equivalent of peeping through the curtain of someone’s bedroom, and reaching in and grabbing a pair of smalls from the bottom drawer for inspection. It is an intriguing marriage of social networking and big data, serving up the kind of infos that cyber-scammers/stalkers love and creating the kind of opportunities to infringe on people’s privacy.

But then when have Zuck & FB ever cared about a user’s privacy?

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 12 Comments

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12 thoughts on “Is “Graph Search” the future of the web or the future of stalker tools?

  1. i think i heard about this not too long ago, still interesting though,

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