Facebook is soft-launching Graph Search slowly across its billion-strong base of users, but already it is popping up in Australia. I have spent my afternoon so far messing around with Graph Search, and it’s simultaneously the most intuitive and most terrifying search platform I have ever used. The future is terrifying.
What Is It?
Graph Search is a way to access information and people and things that are already on Facebook. Specifically, it’s for finding things that have been shared on Open Graph, which is the feature of Facebook that shares apps you use, photos you comment on and music you listen to with the world at large.
Facebook’s Graph Search does a couple of things incredibly well, making it a welcome addition to a platform that has been a pain to search on for such a long time now.
More often than not Graph Search will actually bring up results you’re looking for, which already makes it better than existing Facebook search tools that bring you completely irrelevant data.
Secondly, the results are presented beautifully, especially when searching for things like photos of friends. You’re given a wall of high-res content that’s a joy to scroll through.
The only usability gripe I have with Graph Search is that it’s pulling business listings from Microsoft’s Bing search engine. I have found it wanting on more than one occasion. As someone working in Circular Quay, Sydney and wanting a burger within walking distance for lunch, I was dismayed when I found that the closest burger joint Facebook and Bing had for me was in Newtown: 72 minutes away on foot. Here’s hoping Bing and Facebook work on better listings soon.
A far more concerning facet of Facebook Graph Search, however, is its potential as a stalking tool.
Make no mistake: Facebook Graph Search is creepy. For years people have been worried about the information they have given Facebook, what’s kept, what’s deleted and what can be displayed to other users. The age of the overshare is coming to a close, but we’re about to live with the ramifications for a very, very long time.
Like everything online, Graph Search has the potential to be horribly abused. Stop me when this gets creepy. These are actual searches we got results for:
• Single men/women who like Gizmodo Australia
• My single male/female friends
• Men/Women in an open relationship that live nearby
• People who like sex toys and live nearby
• People who work at Vodafone Australia and like Vodafail
• Men/women who are single friends of [Your Significant Other]
• People who work at Google and like Apple Inc.
And so on and so on.
Worse still, you can sort any of these search results down to the most minute of details and compare them to details on your page. So for example, I can search for single women near my house, and then filter them by age range as well as the school they went to, or the phone they use, or the country they were born in, or even their political and religious views.
With Graph Search, Facebook becomes the most prolific stalking platform on the internet, and it’s completely voluntary. It’s opening up the information that everyone has freely given over the years to strangers, and that’s goddamn terrifying.
By far the worst thing I have seen so far on Facebook Graph Search so far is this, taken from Tom Scott’s tumblr on the new search platform.
Image: Tom Scott
That’s not just creepy, that has potentially dangerous implications for people who would probably prefer to remain anonymous.
Now I know what you’re saying: yes, it is our fault. We have brought all of this on ourselves by telling Facebook all of these intimate things about our lives, but perhaps Graph Search is the kick in the pants we need to take down all the stupid shit we have on there in the first place.
Kyle Wagner also contributed to this article.