What Facebook’s new Graph Search option means for parents and kids

Facebook graph searchFriends who Like Justin Bieber. Photos of my friends before 2000 taken by my mom. Photos taken in New York City.

These are some of the search options currently available in the newly launched Facebook graph search tool. For the moment, it’s only in beta (or test) mode, only available in the U.S. to a few selected invitees. And the search options are still limited.

But make no mistake, this is a very big deal when it comes to privacy, access to information and the convergence of social networks. Simply put, it means that all of the personal information we (and our kids) put online can now be quickly and easily indexed and searched by others.

Facebook is the largest voluntary sociological experiment in the history of humankind. Users everywhere think little of sharing intimate details of our lives, our relationships, our preferences and our consumer behaviours. And while Facebook gives us our accounts for free, make no mistake that they anticipate making vast revenues off this freely shared information through advertising and other forms of data mining.

If you or your kids are Facebook users, consider whether you use your Facebook sign-in information to link to any other accounts: TripAdvisor, group coupon buying sites like Groupon or Living Social, Twitter, Netflix, Pinterest, Goodreads or Instagram. Have you linked your Facebook to your LinkedIn account? A blogging website? Web strategist Jeremiah Owyang has predicted that this interactive convergence between websites is the future of website design, so we are bound to see more and more of it.

What do these linkages mean for you and your kids? It means that when you log in to TripAdvisor, your home page is customized to reflect the data your Facebook friends entered. Bob loved this hotel in Ireland. Emily rated this restaurant in Washington, D.C. When you log in to Netflix, you can see which TV shows they watched; on Goodreads you can see what books they’ve read.  These sites are all connected, and they personalize what you see based on your contacts.

When it comes to helping ourselves and our kids make wise decisions about what they share online, it means we need to be even more aware about what we’ve chosen to out there. And it doesn’t just start now: the photos you uploaded back in 2006 when you first joined are still there.

Although it’s still not yet clear exactly how this will impact users, here are a few things you will want to consider:

  • Search categories on Graph Search are still somewhat limited, but others (including Instagram) are due to be added over time. Keep an eye out for what becomes searchable, so you can discuss those things with your kids.
  • It’s more important than ever to make sure your kids’ privacy settings are set to the highest level, so that “Only friends” or “Only me” are chosen for distribution of information. It’s still not clear how this new Graph Search tool will be impacted by user settings, but it makes good sense to err on the side of caution.
  • Be aware of the App permissions in your privacy settings. You should help your teen choose what apps have permission to share information with others – perhaps they don’t want others to know what they are watching on Netflix, playing on different games or reading.
  • Discuss with your kids why they might not always want to use the “Sign in with Facebook” or “Sign in with Twitter” options when opening a new account. Do they really want all that information connected?
  • Some of your information may show up in searches from people you don’t know. In this Mashable post, the user searched for photos of Paris, France and found images from those they didn’t know. 
  • Be aware of information within your information, sometimes called metadata. Pictures you and your kids take with smartphone cameras tends to record the geographical location where the image was snapped (the GPS data). Some new digital cameras come with this option as well. Although you might not even see it or know it’s there, others can use a simple tool to figure out where your kids go to school, live and hang out with friends. See this post here for more information and explanations on how to easily change the GPS settings on your phones.  
  • The more information your kids’ friends share on Facebook, the more there is to be included in search criteria about them as well. It’s more important than ever to make sure they set up accounts so that they can approve all picture tags or mentions that might appear on their timeline (click here to see how). For example, if someone posts a picture with me in it, but doesn’t tag me, I won’t be part of the search criteria for that image. But if I am tagged, I want the right to approve or disallow what’s out there with my name in it.
  • If you want a clear picture of what you or your kids have shared on Facebook already, you can download a version of all this data. Check out this post for instructions on how to do so.

 

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