At the big reveal, both Zuckerberg and his engineering leads made it abundantly clear that Graph Search has been built to respect your existing privacy settings. If you have your photos set so that they’re only accessible by your friends, only your friends will see them in Graph Search results. If you’ve publicly liked The Works, on the other hand, your name might appear when people use Graph Search to find out where to get a good burger in Kingston.
Facebook does have a track record of fiddling with privacy settings, of course, so it will be important to stay on top of any changes the company decides to make. Privacy controls have been improved and simplified over the past year in response to several rather public misfires, and it’s clear that Facebook is at least trying to make sure users have plenty of control over what gets shared and with whom.
Beyond respecting your settings, Graph Search doesn’t appear to be giving advertisers any additional access to your data. So far, all of the Graph Search functionality Facebook has shown off was already available to online marketers. Facebook’s ad creation tools have allowed incredibly fine-grained targeting for ages. If your company wanted to show ads only to single Canadian women living in Vancouver who enjoy jogging, use an iPhone, are between 19 and 25, and enjoy jogging, Facebook could handle that.
What’s going to change now that Graph Search is rolling out is the effectiveness of that targeting. Current advertising is fairly passive. The ads that appear in your timeline and in the side bar end up there because Facebook believes them to be relevant, but they might not be things you’re interested in right now. With Graph Search, the ads you see will be much more relevant because they’ll target things you’re actively searching for.
Take the burger scenario, for example. If restaurants in Kingston have set up ad campaigns on Facebook, you’ll see them when you go searching for a place to eat. Searching for single ladies that are friends of friends who live near you? Chances are good you’ll see an ad for an online dating service. Ad companies will be falling over themselves to get a spot on Graph Search results, but it’s really not going to be all that different than what happens when you do a search on Google.
Those who have serious privacy concerns will want to hunker down and dig deep to make sure permissions are set to their liking before Graph Search is available to all Facebook users. The three options that appear when you click the lock icon in the main toolbar will help you secure things, but be prepared for a marathon clicking session. One thing you’ll be looking at is the activity log, which shows you every post in which you’re mentioned and all the photos you’ve been tagged in.
Ultimately, Graph Search isn’t changing much (if anything) that really affects your privacy on Facebook. On a more positive note, at least Graph Search finally lets us actually do something with all the status updates, photos, videos, and likes we’ve seen scroll by on our timeline/newsfeed over the years. Now we can mine them for useful insights too, just like advertisers have been doing all along.