Facebook Search Puts Privacy at Risk

Media Contacts
Jon Fox

CALPIRG explains how to stay safe with Facebook Search


San Francisco, CA – The California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) encourages consumers to update Facebook privacy settings in light of the company’s new social search engine, Graph Search. Earlier in January Facebook announced the gradual roll out of their new social search engine that will allow users to search the social network’s collection of user data to find other users with similar interests and provide recommendations based on other’s “likes,” tags and recommendations.

To answer “Most popular pizza restaurants in San Francisco” the new search engine looks at the information provided by Facebook’s one billion users. While the information itself may not be new, Facebook’s new search engine makes it much easier to pull together and access.

“When your friends put a question into Facebook’s new search engine, it searches through every profile and every post,” explained Jon Fox, CALPIRG’s consumer advocate. “Perfect strangers can see everything you have ever liked – anything from a movie to a political party.”

Facebook’s introduction to the new feature stresses that Graph Search respects user’s existing privacy settings. People who have chosen to keep their information private by sharing “likes” and status updates with friends-only, will still be able to keep that information private. However, Facebook does not allow its users to opt-out of appearing from search results entirely, a change that was made to the site’s terms-of-service a month prior to the launch of Graph Search.

The social network’s massive new search engine highlights online threats to consumer privacy. London-based bloger Tom Scott started a Tumblr page called “Actual Facebook Graph Searches,” which includes screenshots of actual Graph Search results. The blog illustrates how Facebook’s new search tool provides the full names, place of residence, employers, photographs and lists of user’s friends and family. Employers or college admissions counselors will now be able to easily search profiles and find out personal information, likes, and preferences users did not intend to share.

While many search results are merely embarrassing, the new search engine can pose serious risk to consumers. CALPIRG warns that the new tool could increase Phishing scams. Armed with the personal information, lists of friends, hometown and college details, provided by Graph Search – criminals will be able to tailor malicious emails to specific users. With the personal introduction, users will be more likely to open the email or click on a link, falling victim to malicious software, phishing scams, and even identity theft.

CALPIRG recommends consumers take a few minutes to update their Facebook account privacy settings in order to control what information is made public and what is not. Facebook users can access their privacy settings by logging into their accounts, clicking on the lock icon in the top menu bar, and then clicking “See More Settings.”

Here are the four recommended actions users can take today to protect themselves:

  1. Set your default preferences to share with friends only.
    Underneath status or photos consumers share is a toggle button that allows you to select with who you would like to share that piece of information with. Users should set it to “Friends” so that anything they share will automatically default to that setting.
  2. Review your past “Likes” & photos.
    Users can look over their past “likes” and un-like any they would find embarrassing or inappropriate today.
    Graph Search includes users’ photos uploaded to Facebook. To help protect privacy, consumers should go through photos they are tagged and un-tag the ones they think are inappropriate. Facebook uploaded a video on how to do this. Consumers can change who can view their photos and albums, by selecting “Who can see my stuff?” and then click on “Where can I review all my posts and things I’m tagged in?” which will show users their activity log, where they can then select the photos tab and see which photos are public or private.
  3. Go through your friends and make lists.
    Facebook allows users to create different list of friends with different levels of access to their profile. For instance, a user can provide college friends access to personal photos and search results while denying those to coworkers.
  4. Keep up privacy.
    Once consumers have cleaned up their profiles, it is important that they continue to keep an eye on their online profiles. Consumers should un-tag themselves from pictures they would not like their boss to see and choose carefully what to like and share publicly.

“The rules have changed since Facebook was first used among friends in college, and so must our online behavior,” said Jon Fox. “New technology can undermine consumer privacy, which means we need to be careful online and mindful of how our online actions makes us look in the real world.”


The California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) is a result-oriented public interest group that protects consumers, encourages a fair sustainable economy, and fosters responsive democratic governance.




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