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If you’re not paying for it, you are not the customer; you are the product being sold.
This week, Facebook introduced its newest attempt to keep up with the big kids on the internet playground: Facebook Graph Search. While this won’t help you with your math homework, and it won’t replace Google’s web search, it’ll let you use general search terms on your list of Facebook friends. CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained that you could query, “Who are my friends in San Francisco?” While this seems like an interesting and fun way to drill down your friends list, it presents several (potentially) problematic privacy issues. First, would it be possible to ask, “Who are friends of friends who are single, between 22 and 26, with blonde hair, who graduated college, like dogs, and dislike cats?” Watch out OKCupid! While Facebook states that people will only be able to see information that you have already shared with them, or information that you have already made public, Facebook doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to its users’ privacy.
The more disconcerting, depending on who you are, application of Graph Search is that it seems like an advertisers’ dream come true. Ad companies spend millions of dollars to specifically target their ads to relevant users (and Google has build its internet empire around it!). Facebook already promotes it’s advertising service as being able to target users based on “location, demographics, and interests.” Please excuse me while I put on my tinfoil hat, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Facebook advertisers have not already had access to some form of Graph Search for a while now. Which brings me back to the quote at the beginning of this post: “If you’re not paying for it, you are not the customer; you are the product being sold.” Graph Search, while fun and interesting for you and I, is not for us. It is for advertisers to better target their ads to say, “Males, between 22 and 28, living in Nashville, who enjoy maintaining aquariums and listening to Pink Floyd.” And I’d probably be the only one.
– Brandon Trout
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