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Reach for your privacy settings: Facebook graph search goes public

New search function answers queries using the habits and likes of friends and strangers

Facebook is making its ‘Graph Search’ public today in an attempt to mine the wealth of data produced by users, utilising everything from places you've visited to your likes and photos.

The product has been in beta for more than six months, but will now be rolled out to users with the “US English” language setting after “tens of millions of people have helped improve the product just by using it and giving feedback."

Graph Search works by answering users’ queries using the information people have voluntarily shared via their Facebook account. Everything from the restaurants you’ve liked to your current relationship status can be used to answer searches.

Facebook have always denied that Graph Search would be a rival to Google, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been keen to talk up the differences: “Web search is designed to take any open-ended query and give you links that might have answers. Graph Search is designed to take a precise query and give you an answer, rather than links that might provide an answer.”

Facebook is hoping that you’ll use this information in a number of appropriate, brand-responsible ways. If you’re taking a trip abroad for example then you might search for “Bars in New York liked by my friends”; or if you’re looking for someone to go a gig with you might ask Graph Search for “Friends of mine who like The Rolling Stones”.  

Of course, the algorithms that run the search are pretty open, and the actual queries that you can get ‘successful’ results for are far more varied then the above examples suggest.

Following the beta release of Graph Search in January this year, the single-serving Tumblr Actual Facebook Graph Searches did a fantastic job of flagging up some of the new service’s more bizarre and creepy possibilities. Want to find ‘Married people who like Prostitutes’? Not a problem. Looking for ‘Single women who live nearby and are interested in men and like Getting Drunk’? No worries - here’s a list of their names and pictures.

Facebook is doing its best to tackle these privacy issues head on (see below for their official video guide), but once they overcome the ignorance of the average user there's still the biggest challenge to individuals' privacy: Facebook itself.

Even in the guide below we're reminded that the default settings are generally stacked against the user, and it takes vigilance to keep on top of things. As talking head Julia says: "Remember, hidden photos still appear elsewhere on Facebook, such as on friends' timelines or in search."