When I opened Facebook earlier this week, I was delighted to see that I had finally made it off the waiting list for the social network’s intriguing take on a search engine: Graph Search. For those of you that don’t know much about it, Mark Zuckerburg and Co. have released a new service that lets you search for people, places, and things in a unique way. The new search tool leverages personal information from your friends (mainly, the things that they’ve “liked”) to bring up search results that might be more relevant to you. For example, you can type in things like “restaurants in Nashville that my friends like” or “music that my friends listen to,” and Facebook will come back with a list complete with what you’re looking for and the ways in which you’re connected to it.
After playing around with it for a few days, I have mixed feelings. It’s clearly a powerful application that could serve businesses well in the future (after all, people tend to trust friends’ opinions when it comes to purchasing decisions), but the question that arises is the same one that always seems to pop up when Facebook comes out with anything new: Are people comfortable with the idea of their information being scraped for public record? Of course, advocates of Graph Search will emphasize that only information that has been shared is searchable, meaning users have control over what information is actually available for indexing. Still, when users agree to put information on their public profiles, it’s doubtful that that means they’re okay with having their stuff so easily discoverable.
Of course, people had similar complaints when the News Feed and Timeline came out, and Facebook is still chugging along anyway. Still, one wonders at what point people will begin to push away from initiatives like this in the name of privacy. On a deeper level, I’m also waiting to see if Facebook’s need to monetize (as seen in Graph Search, the new Facebook Gift Card, and increased real estate for ads in the News Feed) will push users to seek less commercialized social media platforms in the future.