Facebook has over 1 billion active users who log on at least once per month. Whether we like it or not, the world has gotten closer with the introduction of the Facebook Graph Search. Put simply, it allows you to use social engineering to create a detailed search within Facebook. The potential ramifications of this new search engine are literally mind-blowing.
Graph searching can be done by typing a simple query into the search bar:
Try typing in “Friends of friends of my friends” and you’ll be surprised at how granular you can get.
This allows three degrees of separation. You can also type in “People who are not my friends” to see who could be potential friends.
On the right hand side a new “Refine This Search” box appears:
And this is where it gets very interesting
All of a sudden a whole load of new options are now available. Now before my wife starts divorce proceedings, I’d like to state that this search is for experimental purposes only – honest!
I have a friend who just arrived in Melbourne and he wants to meet his dream woman: I can now refine this search to show me for example “Friends of friends of my friends” who are:
- Aged between 23-29
- And live in Melbourne, Australia
All of a sudden my friend has over 100 potential dates – all through the power of the Facebook Graph Search!
The danger of Graph Searching is that anything you have liked or disliked, the religious or political views you hold can now be used to identify you for good or bad.
But really how bad could this be?
With a simple search, anyone can gain enough information to do identity theft. All you need is a person’s name, date of birth, and where they live. It’s as easy as that.
A burglar could work out if someone is overseas by using the “checked-in” search function and correlating it with their “hometown” or “current city.”
Facebook Graph Search allows you to search for specific Facebook apps your friends have. Bang with Friends is an app that connects with Facebook. It allows you to pick which friends you would like to spend some “intimate time” with. If your friend also has the app and they pick you as well, you both get a notification that there is a connection.
You can use Facebook Graph Search to see which of your friends have the app enabled. While you can’t see whom they’d like to spend more time with, you know who is using the app, which may be incriminating in itself.
Narrowing down the search criteria, you could search for “people who use Bang with Friends (OFFICIAL) and works at” … (I’ll leave it to your imagination as to where this can go). My wife could use it to search to see if I have the app.
So what can you do to protect yourself?
First and foremost, the three rules I work towards are:
- Think before you post
- Never post personal information that you don’t want a stranger to know
- Regularly check your security settings
Every three months, I check the security settings within Facebook to see what is publicly visible and what is private. That’s because Facebook constantly changes its terms of service. When Facebook introduced Timeline, a lot of private pictures became public because users had not altered their privacy settings. When was the last time you checked your privacy settings?
Any update or publish box you see on Facebook, whether you’re using a mobile app or the desktop site, will have an audience selector drop-down menu with it. This menu controls who can see what you’re about to post — options include:
- “Public” (anyone can see it),
- “Friends” (only confirmed friends can see it)
- “Only Me” (no one but you can see it).
These settings apply across the board, whether someone is casually browsing your Timeline or using the Graph Search to run queries.
The audience selector drop-down appears next to everything you’ve put on your Timeline too. I recommend that you go to your Timeline and click “Update info” to find all of the options. If you don’t want to show up in some stalker’s Graph Search for your hometown, for example, limit the audience for that particular piece of information.
You can also control who can see the pages you’ve liked (from restaurants to clothing stores). Use the “Activity log” button on your Timeline to review all of your likes, and remove anything you’re not happy with.
Most recruiters and future employers now conduct a “social media idiot check” before they hire someone. People now find it easier to legally change their name than to deal with the ramifications of a bad or embarrassing post.
I’ve had a lot of fun using the Facebook Graph Search to test the limits of the search results – there are a lot of things that I could not publish here. Facebook Graph Search is here and whether we like it or not it is here to stay. Ultimately, it is up to us to decide what information we publish online.
I work for Trend Micro and the opinions expressed here are my own.