Or, How to Rewrite Your Facebook History and Take Control of Your Data
You’ve probably just gotten used to Facebook Timeline and abandoned your “Give us back the old Facebook” page, but Zuckerberg’s gone and moved your cheese again. GraphSearch, is the newest new Facebook; it integrates search and social – and invades your privacy – as never before.
If you’re like most users of the site, you’ve been through enough versions of “the new Facebook” that you’ve become immune to the hype surrounding an announcement that a new and improved Facebook is on the horizon. The frequency of upgrades and staggering of the rollouts makes it hard to know when you’ve been upgraded. Add to that the fact that Facebook doesn’t do version numbers like most software (i.e. there’s no “Facebook 5.1.4” floating in the corner of your screen), and many users don’t even know if they’re on “the new Facebook” or “the old Facebook.”
It’s relatively east to travel back in time to the early days of most websites. The Internet Archive’s Way Back Machine can take you to (almost) any other website at (almost) any other point in time. Scraping the recesses of the web, the Way Back Machine lets us relive web 1.0 in all of its glory.
But, it’s impossible to go back and see “the old Facebook” because Facebook’s anti-robot policy prevents The Way Back Machine from returning you a previous version of the site. While Facebook’s anti-robot policy isn’t too illuminating (saying, basically, robots are black listed by default; see the terms of service (TOS) to apply to be while listed), its TOS is.
Facebook’s TOS for automated data collection is interesting because it spells out very specific rules that automated data collectors must follow when accessing Facebook data. I say interesting, but I really mean ironic. When it comes to user data, Facebook violates all these rules itself – that’s basically its business model. The rules include:
- You will not engage in Automated Data Collection without Facebook’s express written permission.
- You agree that you will not sell any data collected through, or derived from data collected through, Automated Data Collection.
- You agree that you will destroy all data you have collected through Automated Data Collection upon Facebook’s written request and that you will certify such destruction under penalty of perjury.
If only Facebook provided users the ability to protect their data in the same way! Imagine if Facebook had to get written permission before it could build shadow profiles on non-members (yes, it really does that!), if it couldn’t sell you data (good bye ad revenue), or if you really could make Facebook delete all the data it had on you (good bye future ad revenue). Facebook couldn’t win if it had to play by its own rules – and it definitely wouldn’t have developed GraphSearch.
GraphSearch is named for the social graph, Facebook’s term for all the strings of social data that connects us. It works because robots have scraped your data, but that’s okay they’re the good kind of robots: Facebook robots. (This is where I need to use sarcastises, one of the new punctuation marks proposed by college humor.) GraphSearch has indexed every piece of public Facebook data and allows users to search it, as select advertiser have long been able to do. Now that this data is searchable, you can get a list of Mothers of Jews who like Bacon or Married people who like Prostitutes.
Before you all scurry away to remove any questionable like you’re ever made, hold on! Graph search is only based on publically available data; you can remove yourself from most graph searches by changing your privacy settings.
I’ve received some (well deserved) comments about how I often blog about privacy problems and don’t blog enough about privacy solutions. Fair point. So, here’s how you can take back (some) control of your data. Click the privacy shortcut in the upper right hand corner of your Facebook home page. (It’s the one that looks like the lock with the three bars.) Then click “See more stuff.” Check the setting under “Who can see your future posts.” The default setting is public, but you can change it to friends only or get specific by excluding certain people or lists (hello co-workers!).
Graph search will grow based on your future data, but it runs now because of the data you gave Facebook in the past. You can take back (once again, some) control of your past data by access to limiting past posts. When you go to do this, Facebook will give you a big scary warning. Ignore it. Facebook’s not looking out for your best interest; it’s looking out for its ability to make money. With this one click, you can reset your past Facebook data to friends only and remove it from most graph searches and public scrutiny. Sure, your friends will still be able to see the embarrassing stuff you posted in college, but they already can, if they scroll through your timeline for long enough. And, a friend seeing embarrassing stuff is nothing compared to a prospective employer or an enterprising journalist coming across your long buried college transgressions.
You can’t go back in Facebook time, but with privacy controls you can rewrite your Facebook history. GraphSearch is currently in the very early stages of its role out, so check your privacy settings now to make sure your misguided likes don’t land you in someone’s GraphSearch of shame.
Questions of the day: Have you rewritten your Facebook history? Have you traveled back in time to an earlier version of the web? What do you think about GraphSearch: wonderful or wonderfully creepy?
Maggie (Not Margaret) is a blog about social media, marketing, culture, and what’s new on the internet written by me, Maggie O’Toole. Find anything interesting in the worlds of culture or social media that you’d like to see a post on? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.