If you follow social media news, or really any news online at all, you have clearly heard about the new Facebook Graph Search that’s currently in beta. There’s been a lot of hype, a lot of hysteria, and a lot of chatter… but boiled down, what are the major points? And what really matters to you, the average user, and to brands using Facebook? How real are the risks?
Let’s break it down.
What is Facebook Graph Search?
It’s essentially a search engine applied to Facebook and it’s massive accumulation of data. Like a Google or Bing! search, this new tool will allow Facebook users to isolate specific pieces of information from within Facebook’s gigantor network to answer whatever search queries a Graph user could think of.
Just How Much Data is on Facebook?
With a billion accounts, 743 million of whom access the social networking site daily – there is a lot of content generated on Facebook.
Some other vital stats:
- More than 60% of users access their Facebook account via a mobile device.
- More than 1 million websites have integrated with Facebook.
- There are over 300 million photos uploaded to Facebook every single day.
- There are over 500+ million “likes” per day.
- 1 out of every 7 minutes online is spent on Facebook. The average session per visit is 20 minutes.
How Does Graph Work?
Using the data users have posted on Facebook, via status updates, images, comments, likes, and other content, the search engine can isolate key words and identify users who meet the criteria the user using Graph is searching for. The pretense is that users can find new friends, or identify specific friends for a variety of reasons.
Let’s say you’re going to a heavy metal concert in New York City. And before the event, you want to go grab sushi. In Graph Search, you can ask Fb to find and identify people who like heavy metal, sushi, and live in or near New York City. At the top of the list will be folks who meet those terms that you’re already friends with, and then it will suggest new friends you could make based on these commonalities.
And from the Fb roll out of promos, it looks really pretty and cool:
Seems like a good idea – why is everyone freaking out?
It is a great idea. Search engines have long been the bread and butter of the Internet. Data is king and targeted advertising is a massive money-earner online. For people using Graph for innocuous reasons, it will be fun, cool, and neat.
But there are risks. Not everyone is nice. And not every piece of data on Facebook is savory.
Facebook’s privacy settings have gotten more complicated by the day, or so it seems. In recent years, the complexity of Facebook’s settings have made for some very complicated privacy settings. A quarter of Fb users don’t have ANY privacy settings. And those who do use them, may not realize just how these settings work.
Certain levels of privacy on profiles may not protect the data that is created when a user “likes” something, or follows a page. It may seem benign to “like” an activity, like rock climbing, or painting… but for other hobbies and interests, a user could click “like” for fun and not realize the online footprint made with this data.
A lot of people seem to feel that Facebook isn’t doing much, or enough, to really explain the privacy issues and settings that users should know about. From a business perspective, why would they though? Facebook makes their money by selling “public” data for targeted advertising. Those side-bar ads that seem to know just what you’re in the market for? It’s from your very own online behavior and Fb activity. Targeted ads are nothing new. The interesting dichotomy is that without Fb users, Fb won’t be able to make money at all. And Fb thrives on encouraging users to post personal information about themselves, that’s the whole point, right? So if people start clamming up and under-sharing, or leaving the platform, their revenue will be affected. Seems logical, anyways.
Just for the purpose of balance, here’s Fb stance on privacy and Graph.
2. FUNNY, WACKY, RISKY, AND MALICIOUS SEARCHES
Sure if you want to find a friend who likes the same music and food as you do, that’s no big deal. But let’s say someone wants to use Graph for a different purpose – data is data, and a Search Engine doesn’t discriminate the way us humans do.
In some ways, there’s humor in all this. A Tumblr of real Graph Searches that’s gone viral is showing the darker side of Graph. Disclaimer: these aren’t things that everyone will find funny, but people are seeing the hilarity in the mayhem that Graph makes oh so easy. Like the search for “Mothers of Jews who like bacon.” I’m half Jewish and far from Kosher, but I’ll admit I chuckled when I saw that one.
You’re getting it, right?
If you’ve ever “liked” something you don’t want the whole world to know, Graph could offer up some potentially embarrassing information about you. That time you “liked” Weight Watchers, of “Alcoholic Anonymous,” maybe you don’t want everyone on the Internet to know that about you. (I have nothing against Weight Watchers or AA, I’m just trying to make a point – and these are the kinds of things not everyone freely shares).
The jump from funny to embarrassing to downright dangerous is easier than you may think. Tom Scott is the voice behind the Tumblr of screen caps, and as he thought of searches to pull, he was able to demonstrate on how tricky things can get. Like these…
“Married People who like Prostitutes”
Or this one, the spouse of people who like Ashley Madison – the online dating site for affairs:
Information like this can be hurtful. Sure, these folks shouldn’t be posting so openly about their behavior… but maybe they thought their privacy settings had them covered. (Privacy settings is another issue we’ll get to in a minute).
Tom Scott took things one level further, and showed how political issue can pose some serious risks for Facebook users (especially in countries with totalitarian regimes and/or severe laws):
In China, the Falun Gong is very, very banned. Relatives in countries with more civil liberties may think it’s all well and good to post on Fb about their own political leanings and ideas – but now are their overseas family members at risk? And being gay is illegal in Iran – so the search about men who like men, you can add up the risks and outcomes on your own. Sure these users entered this data on their own, but did they know that a tool like Graph would come along and make putting together the piece of data THIS easy?
3. WHY SHOULD MY BRAND CARE?
And if folks who are at risk of ridicule, divorce, legal trouble, and persecution didn’t realize it… do you think your brand is all safe and okay?
You know that profile option on Fb where you can announce where you work by linking up with your employer’s Facebook Page? This is why every brand on Facebook needs to think about Graph, its implications, and start to get informed.
Let’s say instead of doing a personal search like heavy metal and sushi, someone wants to learn a few things about a company. Type in the company’s name and something unsavory like “racism” (or a couple key words you’d affiliate with racist ideology)- and bam! Every employee who has somehow generated data on Facebook affiliated with racism is now on blast.
You can see where this is going. The content that your employees post on Facebook has always been there. But when Graph comes out for everyone, doing these kind of searches will be easier than ever, and your brand is open to all kinds of PR nightmares. The boundary of human creativity is pretty nonexistent. Any little search term someone can come up with, push “go,” and there you’ll be… can you imagine the screen shots now?
What about this gem? “Employees of Tesco who like Horses”
(If you don’t like in the UK, you may not understand that one – Tesco was recently found to have horse meat in their burgers – check this BBC story here for deets).
4. WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT?
Here’s the good news. There is much that can be done. First and foremost, people need to get the word out about Fb privacy settings and how seriously they should be taken. Check out this link http://www.nbcnews.com/technology/technolog/3-privacy-settings-tweak-facebook-graph-search-rolls-out-1B7988034 from NBC News for a great read on the privacy settings you should tweak before Graph comes out of beta and is accessible to all one billion users.
As for brands, there is plenty that can be done:
Apply for beta access to Graph and start pulling your own searches to see what kinds of things you’re able to discover.
Review your company policies about employee social media content for those who choose to identify as your employee on Facebook.
Talk to us. At ICUC, we are social listening experts. We use best-in-class monitoring tools, and we are well trained at crisis prevention and with escalation procedures. We can help you prepare for the public launch of Graph, and we can discuss ways your brand can best protect yourself online to maintain your best reputation.
We’ll be following Graph, and we can communicate the changes that come out and what they mean for you and your brand. We’re also developing Best Practices that we can share with you to help your brand make sure to take the smartest steps possible to taking care of your reputation and public image.
Who you are on the Internet matters. And data is everywhere now.
With a new tool that makes piecing together all these billions of pieces of data, it’s only smart to be as prepared as possible. Learn what you can about Graph Search, and just get ready for whatever may happen as this newest tool develops and launches.
5. IT’S NOT ALL BAD
As with any exciting new technology, there are fear-mongers, excited techies, and everyone in between. At Forbes a really positive piece came out about how Facebook is changing an industry, specifically about online recruiting:
“Graph Search will change the game again. It allows passive and active candidates to become recruits. As this product rolls out and improves over the next few months, recruiters will have a chance to search within their own networks using specific keywords to find people for whom their unfilled jobs are relevant.”
An article on Politico opens with this optimistic and reassuring line, “Facebook’s top privacy officer reiterated Monday the social network’s new Graph Search mantra: Your privacy settings are safe.”
Of course it’s exciting. I can’t wait for my own beta request to come through, and I know I’ll have fun playing around with it. But just as with any new technology or major new tool, feature, or update – brands have a huge responsibility to err on the side of caution and be prepared. And well, as early examples have clearly displayed, the average user needs to exercise caution too. I don’t think I’m being alarmist, or dumping on Graph – I’m trying to explain valid and real concerns and I’m trying to do so in a timely manner so that those who want to get protected have the time, info, and resources to do their best.
6. WHAT’S NEXT?
At Snoo.ws, we’ll be keeping an eye on Graph too, as it’s still in beta and after it launches. And with all kinds of red flags being raised, we’ll be keeping an eye on the issues that develop. Here at Snoo.ws, we’ll keep you informed and on top of the changes, risks, and what’s going on.
We also have a post in the cooker about online impersonation, specifically “Catfishing,” and how a tool such as Graph may actually make things easier for those posing as someone else. Make sure to check back in for that story, and our other great content!
Batten Down Your Privacy Settings, Here Comes Graph – on Digital Trends
CNet’s Post on Updating Privacy Settings Now
Facebook Graph, a Dud For Marketers – on Terra
Facebook Graph Search: A Foursquare-killer? – on Social Media Today
Facebook Privacy, more illusion than fact – on CSO Online
Why Graph Could Be The Biggest Privacy Invasion Ever – on The Nation
Social Media Today