Well, that didn’t take long. Facebook Graph Search is now its own Tumblr meme: “Actual Facebook Graph Searches.” The site dials up the social media rubbernecking-slash-privacy outrage to a whole new level: user submissions. It’s like that Gizmodo post was turned into an entire blog, edited by everyone. The blog is now blowing up on Hacker News. It’s getting tweeted. The site’s creator says traffic is ridiculous. But does it have a real message?
“Don’t worry, we’ll all be used to this in a few weeks’ time,” reads the Tumblr blog’s cheeky tagline.
But will we? After all, having your wife discover that you “like prostitutes” or your boss find out that you’re a fan of “racism” could, oh, I don’t know, maybe cause a few problems down the road? (Best to check and re-check those privacy settings before this Graph Search thing exits beta.)
Tom Scott, who recently launched the site, says he’s not sure he’s making any deeper point about privacy with the Tumblr blog, though.
“As has happened so many times with Facebook, this data was always available – but it wasn’t this easy to find,” he tells me. “While Graph Search jokes are a good demonstration to startle people into checking their privacy settings, most people will never actually be affected by it. Most of the danger online comes not from strangers making half-assed joke searches: it comes from people who know you,” he adds.
He admits that the site is something of a “cheap shot” at Facebook. That’s true. And while it’s kind of funny to see the things people brazenly share on Facebook without thinking about the consequences, Facebook’s search, as Tom notes, at least respects your current Facebook profile privacy settings. It’s not like we’re (necessarily) looking at public data here.
That is to say, it’s not like OpenBook, for example. Remember that? It was the original “Facebook Search Engine” which made users’ public Facebook status updates available to anyone who felt like searching for embarrassing and private things like rectal exam, stupid boss, HIV test and control urges.
No, to delve into Graph Search’s best stuff, you at least have to be Facebook friends with the people doing the sharing to get at the goods.
But even if the blog’s creator doesn’t have a message per se, the site is drawing attention because it registers something with us. It creates that slightly uncomfortable, but now familiar feeling which usually indicates that Facebook has just taken another major step towards its overarching goal of “making the world more open and connected.” (Like its new employee hoodies secretly say).
But at what cost?
You know that (slightly inane) saying in the tech industry, “if you’re not paying, you’re the product?” It’s often bandied about as a shorthand way of explaining how free services, like Facebook, turn users’ data into a revenue stream. The saying may be junk, but it’s hard to look at something like the newly launched Facebook Graph search, and not feel like the whole of your being has been stripped down to ones and zeroes here:
Facebook Graph Search is made out of people. They’re making our food out of people. You’ve gotta tell them. You’ve gotta tell them! It’s people!