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A parent’s-eye-view of Facebook’s new ‘Graph Search’

Facebook unveiled its new, updated search tool today, TechCrunch and a massive number of other news outlets reported. Its name “Graph” is from CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s term “social graph,” which means it’s Facebook’s version of social-network search – search personalized by algorithms to users’ own social circles. Yes, it competes with Google’s personalized search results that appear on the top of your results when you’re logged in. But even more interestingly, it competes with the likes of Yelp and Foursquare – it’s a lot about finding friends’ top places to shop or locals’ favorite restaurants wherever you are in the world (since Facebook has a billion+ users and is in every country on the planet, that’s a lot of destinations to aggregate and pinpoint). [BusinessInsider.com reported the afternoon of the announcement that Yelp stock declined 7.75%.]

To others – possibly teen users and parents – it’s concerning, because people can zoom in on specific aspects of your Facebook experience, e.g., photos a specific user’s tagged in. Some people worry about stalkers, but it could also be a helicopter parent’s dream come true, which may be cause for more teens to socialize more in smaller, lesser-known social-media spaces, such as mobile apps. [I wouldn't blame teens for that if they're experiencing very public parenting online – see this and/or this.]

So teen users and their parents should know that Facebook’s Graph Search (which will roll out slowly worldwide, so you probably won’t experience it right away) follows users’ privacy settings. And there’s additional protection for users under 18: No one but “Friends” or “Friends of Friends” who are also minors can turn up search results which could identify minors by their age or location (home town, school, etc.). That applies to content you post. If someone else posts info about you, it’s considered their content and subject to their privacy settings (this is the social part of privacy, safety, responsibility, and control in social media).

This is a good opportunity to do three things: 1) to revisit how you’ve set our privacy settings (“Timeline and Tagging Settings”), 2) in day-to-day FB use, to think about how what you’re posting would appear in search results, and 3) talk with your friends about how one user can’t control the search results of content his or her friends post, and we all need to be thoughtful of each other in social media. It’s also a good time to remember not to have a false sense of security about privacy settings or any other tech tools. Because one’s well-being is a shared responsibility now, a very human thing in social media.

Disclosure: I serve on Facebook’s Safety Advisory Board and co-direct ConnectSafely.org, which receives financial support from Google, Facebook, Trend Micro, and other technology companies.

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