I noted this in my piece yesterday about the privacy implications of the new feature, Facebook Graph Search, but thought it worth highlighting further. Graph Search, which isn’t yet widely available, allows users to search their Facebook network with queries like “restaurants my friends like in London” and “friends of my friends who are single and live in Hong Kong.” It’s a major new initiative for Facebook that could provide new opportunities for advertising and bring more value to the data it stores about users.
When you hide things on your timeline, like posts or connections, it means those things will not appear on your timeline. But, remember, anyone in the audience of those posts or who can see a connection may still see it elsewhere, like on someone else’s timeline or in search results. You can also delete or change the audience of content you post.
At the time of the change, Facebook product director Sam Lessin said “a single-digit percentage of users” had opted out of appearing in search results on Facebook. The site has more than a billion users, so 1% is 10 million people. The company didn’t respond to inquiries today.
Though users can no longer opt out of search results entirely, Facebook still lets people control who has the ability to see specific updates about them in search and other parts of Facebook. Many users have found those privacy controls confusing, and another change implemented last month was intended to simplify the options.
“Many people posted stuff on their timelines that they did not expect to be publicly searchable,” Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told the Wall Street Journal. Sam Biddle of Gizmodo demonstrated this dynamic with Graph Search queries like “people who like hating when black people say things that you can’t understand!” and “men who like shitting my pants,” which turned up plenty of results.
Update (Jan. 18 at 11:00 a.m. ET): Thanks to Neil Kandalgaonkar, here’s a better view of how Facebook’s policies changed, including the company’s own “redline” of the changes.