Facebook Graph Search & Privacy Concerns: Should You Be Worried?


What is Facebook Graph Search?

Facebook Graph Search first launched in March 2013, allowing users to search for people, photos, places, and interests within the Facebook search engine. Facebook Graph Search provides custom search results based on your own personal data, including information in the profiles of your friends. As you type a search query, Facebook Graph Search auto-completes the query, suggesting friendships through existing connections, Facebook pages, and apps, before finally providing web results.

Facebook Graph Search

New Facebook Graph Search: Now With More Stalking Power!

In recent months, Facebook developers have made Graph Search even more powerful, now capable of providing results on searches for:

  • status updates

  • photo captions

  • comments

  • check-ins

The updated Facebook Graph Search can also search for posts from a specific place or time period.

It’s a bit hard to understand what this really means until you see Facebook Graph Search work in action. Below are some example search queries users might search in Facebook Graph Search.

  • Posts I commented on

  • My posts from the last year

  • Posts written at Yellowstone National Park

  • Posts by my friends last month

  • Posts about Breaking Bad

Why Is Facebook Graph Search Upsetting People?

Some people are grabbing their pitchforks and torches at news of Facebook Graph Search – and with good reason. While technically those risqué photo comments you posted on your cousin’s bachelorette party album a few years ago have always been available on Facebook for prying eyes, for all intents and purposes they were invisible once they disappeared from the feed.

Time heals all wounds and buries the evidence – at least it used to. Finding those inappropriate Facebook photo comments in the past would have required clicking “see more photos” hundreds of times, digging around for the exact incriminating photo, and opening it to see the comments. This is commonly referred to as privacy by obscurity. And with the new Facebook Graph Search, it’s a thing of the past.

Facebook Graph Search has the ability to dredge up nearly any user content with a few clicks of the keyboard. Imagine the search a potential employer might conduct of your photo comments, with a “drunk” keyword filter. Yup, that’s possible. Now you understand why folks are nervous.

Facebook Graph Search Privacy: Protecting Your Secrets

Now that we’ve got you good and spooked, it’s important to tell you that not all hope is lost – Facebook Graph Search results are shaped by users’ privacy settings, so if you choose to restrict certain content from being shown, it will remain hidden from searches. While you can’t outright disable Facebook Graph Search, you can get close by beefing up privacy settings to prevent your content from appearing in Graph Search results.

That means it’s time for some Facebook house cleaning!

As we’re all well aware, Facebook loves to mess around with privacy policy and settings. So first off, let’s head over to your current privacy settings and see what’s happening there.

Facebook Graph Search Privacy

Here you’ll be able to:

  • Tailor who can see future posts

  • Review all posts you are tagged in

  • Limit the audience for posts you’ve shared with Friends of Friends or Public

  • Choose who can send you friend requests

  • Choose who can look you up by email address or phone number

  • Decide whether or not you want search engines to link to your timeline

Note: While you can choose who is able to see your timeline and posts, Facebook has recently declared that all profiles are searchable – that is, you can’t hide yourself when someone searches your name.

Done? Next go to Timeline and Tagging. Here you can adjust settings such as:

  • Who can post on your timeline

  • Set whether or not you want to review photos tagged of you before they appear on your timeline (you probably do)

  • Who can see posts you’ve been tagged in

  • Other tagging options

Another setting you’ll find in “Timeline and Tagging” is the option to choose whether or not you want people getting tag suggestions when a photo of you is uploaded, i.e., do you want Facebook facial recognition turned on or off?

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m not crazy about this idea, so I took a minute to turn that off by setting the audience for tagging suggestions to “no one.”

Privacy Facebook Graph Search

These Privacy and Timeline/Tagging sections are great for adjusting settings on a massive scale, but maybe there are specific posts from the past you’d like to fine-tune the audiences for. This is where Activity Log comes in. You can get to the Activity Log from within the Settings>Privacy section, or just go to your timeline profile and you’ll see “Activity Log” in the right hand corner of your cover photo.

Disable Facebook Graph Search

Welcome to Your Facebook Nightmare: Activity Log

Take a deep breath. Everything you’ve ever posted, tagged, or been snapped in is here. Yikes! It’s a bit overwhelming at first, but for now just focus on the left navigation bar. Here you’ll see options for:

  • Your Posts

  • Posts You’re Tagged In

  • Posts by Others

  • Posts You’ve Hidden

  • Photos

  • Likes

  • Comments

To get started, let’s try looking at comments. Here you’ll find anything you’ve ever commented on – articles, friends’ status updates, photos, etc. It’s all here, and with Facebook Graph Search, it’s easy for people to find this stuff.

Facebook Graph Search Example

Let’s dig a bit deeper – you can navigate to past months or years on the right hand navigation.

You’ll notice next to each comment there’s a small icon. Mousing over the icon will show the privacy settings for each piece of content.

Facebook Graph Search Mobile

You can’t change the privacy setting of a comment if it was posted to a friend’s account (which most probably will be), but you can delete the comment by clicking the small pencil (“Edit”) icon.

how to disable facebook search graph

Have fun weeding through your activity log – get ready for some fond memories and/or serious embarrassment.  

One more word about Photos – since that tends to be where people really want to keep things private. Within the Photos section of activity log, you can see:

  • Photos of You

  • Your Photos

Here you’ll see all the photos you are tagged in, by yourself and others. You always have power over what photos you are tagged in, even when the photos belong to another user. Feel free to change the audience settings where you see fit.

Note: Photos that you’ve hidden from your timeline are still searchable. Review these photos by going to the top of the selection tool and clicking “On Timeline: Hidden.” Now you can remove tags and make sure the photos die once and for all!

How to remove tags from Facebook Graph Search

Want to change the privacy setting for your albums? No problem, just leave activity log and head to Photos>Albums. Icons in the bottom right of each corner show you the privacy settings for each album and let you change them. Some, like Timeline photos, will require that you go in and change pictures manually.

Facebook Graph Search Privacy: Review Your Cover-up Work

Have you hidden the skeletons in the closet? Just make sure by going to your profile and clicking the “View As” option in the gear dropdown, next to Activity Log. Here you can put yourself in an outsider’s shoes and see what they see on your profile.

We’ve given you the tools and techniques to defend yourself against the murderous onslaught of Facebook Graph Search. God be with you brothers. Don’t shoot till you see the comments made drunkenly.

The Future of Facebook: Should Twitter Watch its Back?

Twitter has largely been seen as the #1 place for real-time news and corresponding dialogue. If you want to see what folks are saying about tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead, you’re likely using a #WalkingDead hashtag.

However, Facebook Graph Search could end up giving Twitter some competition. Search “posts about Walking Dead” or “posts about Dancing With the Stars” and you’ll be inundated with real-time content.

Facebook Search Graph Comments

This makes Facebook a much more viable option for online conversation, since Facebook Graph Search makes finding friends who are talking about specific subjects vastly easier. Add that to the fact that Facebook now recognizes hashtags, and you can see why the little blue bird better watch its back!

Why Facebook Graph Search is Great For Businesses & Brand Monitoring

Facebook Graph Search also makes it easier for businesses to monitor discussion about their brands via Facebook. Search “Status updates about Pepsi” or “Posts about Toyota” and you’ll find real-time talk about businesses. This new tool can be used to discover fans talking about your brand, who you can then engage with.

How to Get Facebook Graph Search

Facebook Graph Search started as a limited beta, and then later became available to all US English users. The newer, more advanced search options are at the moment only available to a small group of US/English users. Facebook will monitor their usage, take feedback into consideration, and then roll out the feature to all users at a later unknown date.

At the moment the entirety of Graph Search is English only, due to the fact that Facebook Graph Search is a semantic search engine that relies on sentences rather than simple keywords. This makes it difficult to internationalize, so don’t expect to see this option available in other countries for quite some time.

How to Use Facebook Graph Search: Glorious, Terrifying Nostalgia

Although online privacy advocates are likely to despise the new Facebook Graph Search, it will actually allow for some pretty cool interactions between users. Considering that most millennials will have the majority of their entire lives documented on Facebook, Graph Search allows for some serious nostalgia (or ghastly embarrassment) as users can sort through old photos and posts, providing a blast from the past.

One thing is for sure – creating group collages or slideshows has become a heck of a lot easier since now a simple search can return all photos of chosen individuals in various settings and time periods. Much better than digging through hundreds of old albums.

What do you guys think of Facebook Graph Search? Is it a wonder or a pestilence? 

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Victor Pan
Oct 24, 2013

On the flip side, the openess of all this data provided by Facebook Graph Search means that marketers are going to have a field day.Remember how Facebook is testing the option for advertisers to send messages to any user provided they pay for it? Well, it's time to add 1 and 1 together.There are a lot of other creative marketing opportunities made easier with the expansion of Graph Search.

Megan Marrs
Oct 25, 2013

True story Victor. I'm really looking forward to seeing how inventive marketers take advantage if Graph Search.

Rick Noel
Oct 24, 2013

I agree with Victor. Graph Search could be a dream for markters. Imagine of all the Graph Search functionality were available in the create very specific niche audiences based on the content of posts and status updates. Facebook announced that creating custom audiences outside of the Power Editor on the roadmap.The one thing as a parent gives me pause is this Graph Search functionality will be rolled out at the same time Facebook is giving teens the ability to make posts public. The combination could create serious risk for kids by putting powerful tools in the hands of pedophiles.I can say for certain that for people looking for dates, Graph Search will be a competitive threat to online dating sites - i.e. try some searches such as show me all the single woman in my home town interested in ...

Orenj Technology
Oct 24, 2013

I guess there's nothing should we worry about if we follow their rules when it comes toadvertising or posting status on Facebook. Their new added features is likely to their users so that they will stay on the said site compared to other competitors that's why they are updgrading it.

Scottie leonard
Oct 25, 2013

Rick, your point is strong. One should care for children as well and limit the graph search. As mentioned by Megan, the new graph search is really a very good tool proven for the business owners. It's really making the search easy and reliable but since everything could  be made searched through graph search, one should now be careful while posting the new posts and also wonder what they have posted long time back and make it private or public.Overall, nice article Megan. Thanks

Ken Vargas
Oct 25, 2013

While much has been written and discussed about the benefit of Facebook Graph Search, my intent to shed some light on this subject; however, keep in mind that Graph Search is still in beta. Typically, B2B companies want to think of how a certain platform or technology makes money. With Facebook Graph Search, that answer is still 100% unclear; however, its impact on top-line revenue saving in undeniable.

Oct 25, 2013

People ask me how I can market on Facebook yet I have deleted my account long ago. My response to them is that's like asking a coke dealer why he doesn't get high on his own supply. This is great for marketers, but I can't believe how willing people are to share every intricate detail of their lives. People take it for granted until they get canned from a job, etc.

Megan Marrs
Oct 25, 2013

Great analogy Eric - I think that's totally spot on! It is shocking what people are willing to give up in terms of online privacy. Though as marketers, we reap the benefits.

Nov 26, 2017

Pretty! This was an incredibly wonderful post. Thank you
for supplying this information.

Oct 28, 2013

FB grap search allows you also to target your own ads to customers of your competition.You can use for example tool like www. sndm.sk

Igna Webb
Nov 26, 2013

I think graph search is still not applied on the facebook profile. My friends profile don't comes up with the graph search.

Hate Graph Search
Mar 10, 2014

Reasons I hate graph search:I hide my friends list, yet because I dared to comment on my friend's photo of her baby which she put up with public privacy setting (that I have NO control over) any random can search for photos I've commented on which you would never have got to by looking at my profile alone.I've gone through the activity log and deleted EVERYTHING I've commented on that was set to public.  Yet the posts and photos still come up in the search and I used to be tagged in some of these photos by a friend who refused to take them down.I couldn't delete from some of the groups as I've left the groups and can't rejoin as facebook decided to make them all 'closed' and I need permission to join which is unlikely for a group that'shad no activit since 2009.Once this rolls out properly I think I will be closing my account and opening another making sure not to comment on any public posts, because people where I work have been sacked for really trivial comments and I don't like feeing so exposed.  I don't want to be targeted by ads and stalkers etc.bring back old facebook, that's what I say!

Apr 12, 2014

Hi, I have deleted  photos shared from public pages on my timeline but they are still shown up in graph search. Why facebook  does not delete them permanently. 

Sep 06, 2014

Hi Megan, Realize this is an older post, but something just popped up tonight: When I go to friends name in 'Search' it has always allowed me to choose from menu items like ' Post xxxx likes', Pictures xxxx commented on'. Tonight I got this message: 'Sorry, we couldn't find any results for this search' on a friend's name. Then checked others and the same message kicks in. Any idea what's happening there? And, is it correctable? Seems a little useless to be on FB if I can thumb through that kind of thing. regards,Judy

Sep 15, 2014

No doubt about the wonders of Facebook but we all need to mind about what is being posted.It's not enough to master all these techniques we need to make good use of it.

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