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Some Thoughts on Facebook’s “Graph Search”

Why did Facebook wait years to add search?
When word got out that Facebook was unveiling a new feature, many people (especially those with Facebook stock) had high expectations. Was Facebook launching a search engine to rival Google? Was it going to be the “Google Killer”? Like most Facebook feature announcements, this one left many underwhelmed.  For those of you who haven’t heard, Facebook’s Graph Search will allow users to pull information about their friends through searching their friends’ profiles for “likes” and other pieces of information. Up until now, the “Newsfeed” was the center of the Facebook universe. Introduced in 2006, the Newsfeed is device that captures information about “friends” actions and pushes them to the profile owner’s feed. When initially introduced, the Newsfeed was met with some harsh criticism for a number of reasons. One of the largest criticisms was around user privacy. Suddenly, messages and actions that were only publicized on a user’s page were being broadcast to a larger ecosystem

Facebook’s Misunderstanding of Consumers’ Privacy Expectations
What was Facebook’s response to these mounting concerns?  “Calm down. Breathe. We hear you,” proclaimed CEO Mark Zuckerberg as he tried to calm the storm by professing that nothing had changed … “We didn’t take away any privacy options. [Your privacy options remain the same.] The privacy rules haven’t changed. None of your information is visible to anyone who couldn’t see it before the changes.”… but in reality they did. Similar concerns surrounded the recent introduction of Timeline which allowed easier access to users’ Facebook history.

Graph Search takes these privacy concerns to the next level. Zuckerberg’s argument is grounded in the fact that this information was already visible to your Facebook friends. This is true; however, these “always visible” pieces of information were not always so easily accessible. Prior to the introduction of Timeline, accessing these pieces of information was quite labor intensive. Posts were displayed in chronological order; therefore, anyone who wanted to see what I posted in 2007 would have to click through six years of data, page by page, post by post. Timeline changed all of that by allowing “friends” to easily scan through years of data with a click or two. Graph Search has simplified things further. Now a user doesn’t even need to visually scan individual profiles, he or she can search through hundreds with just one click.

Still, Zuckerberg is right. The information hasn’t changed. We (the users) have the power to control the information that we post to our profiles and other actions… right? Yes and no. Some actions are automatically added to Facebook’s repository and instantly broadcast to our entire network even if we hit the “delete” button. Furthermore, past information disclosures were made with a different understanding of how that information was going to be used and shared. Despite what Mr. Zuckerberg thinks, this changes everything.

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