Privacy Regulator Keeps An Eye On Facebook Graph Search


Watchdog tries out Facebook’s new thing, isn’t totally convinced about its respect for privacy

The launch of Facebook Graph Search this week was always going to pique the interest of privacy advocates. But the data protection authority in charge of keeping the social networking titan in check in Europe is concerned enough by the feature to keep close tabs on it.

The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner in Ireland told TechWeekEurope it had coordinated with Facebook on the addition, but having trialled the feature, the watchdog is to continue working with Mark Zuckerberg and his company to ensure it does not break the law.

That’s the same watchdog that kicked off an investigation into Facebook privacy in 2011. It subsequently handed Facebook a sizeable dossier of changes it wanted to see, which led to various alterations to the website in Europe, including the closure of the facial recognition feature.

Facebook Graph Search lets users find relevant information that has been made public by other Facebook users, returning answers to searches such as “who are my friends that live in London?”, “photos taken in national parks before 1990” or “pubs in Dublin liked by people from Dublin.”

Facebook Graph Search privacy problems

It should only show information that has not had its privacy settings changed. But users cannot opt out of the service, given Facebook took away users’ right to remove themselves from search. Instead, users will have to mark each piece of content they upload with specific privacy settings so it cannot be found via the new search feature.

“We were informed that information will be searchable in line with current settings on the site. So, for instance, if information was set to ‘friends only’ it will only be returnable to ‘friends’,” a spokesperson from the commissioner’s office said.

“We will be continuing to engage with Facebook Ireland on this new facility in light of experience of the pilot phase to ensure that the facility operates in compliance with Irish and EU data protection law.”

Facebook Graph Search will be rolled out slowly to users, with the first tranche of trials to go live in the US this month.

Given how many times Facebook has been in hot water over privacy problems, some were surprised at how critical the CEO was of others’ records on privacy yesterday.

Zuckerberg promised the latest addition had been designed with privacy in mind and subsequently took a swipe at rival Google over the latter’s privacy history, even though the young billionaire said the Graph Search would not be a competitor to Google.

During the launch yesterday, Zuckerberg said Google couldn’t guarantee it would remove Facebook posts deleted by users of the social network from its search results. That’s why Facebook partnered with Microsoft instead back in 2010.

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