Facebook began rolling out a tool Monday that eases the search for an acquaintance's 2009 vacation photos or the location of nearby users with similar film tastes. The site's Graph Search is a big advance in social media's search capability, creating not only a boon for targeted advertising, but also potential privacy concerns for the unaware.
The new tool facilitates the search of Facebook like never before, allowing strangers, employers and even law enforcement to easily find embarrassing or damning photos, updates and interests. To be sure, many such posts are the fault of ignorant users or the source of inside jokes. But a 16-year-old's poor attempt at humor by "liking" prostitution could put him on a short list for additional online surveillance or scare away future employers.
Graph Search could make Facebook big money by making it even easier for advertisers to find consumers for this facial cream or that cola.
However, its arrival is yet another reason for Internet users to re-evaluate what they put online in a public setting. Facebook has little interest in protecting your privacy. It puts the onus on users to take the effort to shield their personal information.
The social network does provide instructions on how users can minimize privacy concerns, but they're tucked a few levels beneath the site's main page -- too concealed for oblivious and novice users to notice or find. The site should compile these directions in a single, clear message trumpeted to each user, while making its labyrinth of privacy settings easier to navigate.
As more social activity moves online -- to Facebook or other sites -- the risk of cybercrime could lead to ill-advised calls for the government to actively police social media. Facebook, not to mention all of us, would be better served if it highlighted protections now, rather than waiting until users fall victim to unexpected invasions of privacy later.