Facebook Graph Search and Privacy

Facebook has been steadily making changes to privacy and security controls, including changes made to app permissions, untagging and removing photos, and adding privacy shortcuts in 2012. In March 2013, Facebook announced Graph Search. Facebook Graph Search is a Facebook specific search engine which allows you to search all of the things people have shared with you. If your post is set to ‘public’ that means that anyone can find it though a Facebook Graph Search.

Your Graph Search results will differ from anyone else’s results for the same search because you have different Facebook friends. But Graph Search isn’t limited just to posts on your Timeline; it also covers your Facebook profile information, photographs, comments and likes. As Facebook explains,

[quote style=”boxed”]For example, if you search for Photos of Tokyo, you’ll see photos friends took in Tokyo and shared with you, as well as Public photos related to Tokyo[/quote]

Recently, you may have heard that Facebook has made even more changes that could make your Facebook profile visible to anyone who performs a Graph Search, whether you want it to be public or not. Facebook is eliminating the privacy setting that allowed you to hide your profile from Graph Search (“Who can look up your timeline by name”). That means you’ll need to pay extra close attention to your privacy settings.


Change the default audience for future posts by going to your Privacy settings and changing the setting for “Who can see my future posts?” Your best bet is to set it to “Friends” or a custom setting of your choosing. This way, any posts you create in the future will automatically go only to that limited audience, and if you want to expand the audience for a particular post or make it publicly available, you can change the audience for that post alone. But if you forget, your posts won’t be public.

That takes care of everything you post from now on, but if you were not as careful with previous posts and settings, now is the time to go back and review to restrict access to previous items. You can make a global change by clicking on “Limit Past Posts” next to “Limit the audience for posts you’ve shared with friends of friends or Public?” which will allow you to limit past posts to Friends only (unless you’ve tagged someone in the post, and then their Friends will also be able to view your post).

Alternatively, you can click on “Use Activity Log” next to “Review all your posts and things you’re tagged in” in the Privacy Settings or go to your own profile on Facebook and click on the “Activity Log” link. This shows you all of your activity on Facebook, including links, posts, photographs, comments, tags, etc., as well as anything that has been posted about you.

Next to each item you’ll see and icon that shows the audience that item was shared with: Friends, Only Me, Friends of Friends, Public, etc. If you’ve posted it, you can change the audience to be more or less restrictive. If it was posted on someone else’s Timeline, you may remove tags, but you can’t change the audience for the post. Go through and remove everything you wouldn’t want someone else to see.

When you’ve finished changing your settings, double-check the result by using the “View As” feature under the gear icon on your Timeline or click on the lock icon in the top navigation bar and click “View As” under “What do other people see on my Timeline?” Then click on “Public” or enter a specific name to see how your Timeline is seen by that person or the public.


Even if you restrict the audience for your posts, you may be making some information publicly available if you don’t also restrict the audience for your photos. Your purpose for using Facebook will determine whether you want to be more or less restrictive with your photos than you are with other posts. Go through your photos and albums to be sure you’re not over-sharing.

About information

Go to your Timeline and click on “About.” For each section listed, click on the Edit button and then look for the audience icons next to each item. For example, you may be OK with your work and educational information being widely available, but you may not want some other items that are more personal – including the list of people who are your Friends on Facebook – to be so visible.

Don’t forget that now people won’t necessarily need to go to the About section of your profile on Facebook to see your likes. If you’ve liked Breaking Bad, for example, someone doing a Graph Search on “My friends of friends who like Breaking Bad,” will come up with a list of people who their Facebook friends are friends with and who have liked the TV show “Breaking Bad.” Since you won’t always know who your Friends’ friends are, think twice about how widely available you make this information, particularly if your Facebook use is not limited to personal friends and family.

To edit who can see your various Likes, click on the pencil icon next to that section (books, for example), and then choose ‘Edit Privacy’ to restrict the audience for any similar likes in the future. Or you can choose to eliminate that section entirely from your profile by clicking ‘Hide Section.’

What you can’t do

If you maintain a presence on Facebook, your name, user name, profile photo and cover photo are all publicly available.

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