Big Data is Watching (or single women who are librarians and like cats)

As Facebook rolled out its Graph Search to users’ accounts, stories in the news media have been popping up about the outrageous things you can find (e.g, “married people who like prostitutes“) and–more importantly–how you can (try to) lock down your privacy settings. Gizmodo has a good overview on how to do this.

So is Facebook’s Graph Search a warm, fuzzy place to find out about other co-workers who might like bicycling and hiking, like I do? Or is it a stalker-ish search engine that uses your precious personal data and likes? Well, it’s a bit of both.

TechNewsDaily points out:

You can run. You can hide. But you still won’t be safe from Facebook’s Graph Search.

Librarians, school media specialists, and information professionals should play a role in educating their users on social media and privacy. But we all need to pay attention to what we post. Case in point, I did an off-the-wall “stereotypical” librarian search for: Single women who are librarians and like cats.

To my surprise, there were actual search results [note: I’m not saying it’s wrong to be a single librarian that likes cats. It’s just amazing to see how narrow I can make the data]:

Facebook Graph Search: single women who are librarians and like cats

I don’t know about you, but I find the search results creepy. I also wonder about some of the negative connotations people might draw from these search results. As an example, I picked my area: Green Bay, Wisconsin. Here’s a search for: People who live in Green Bay, Wisconsin and that like getting drunk.

Facebook Graph Search: people who live in Green Bay, Wisconsin and that like getting drunk

So much of the information that people think is private, is actually not. Now, I’m not part of the tin foil hat brigade, nor am I advocating for a Puritan-ization of social media–but I do think everyone needs to take a second look at the information they share, educate themselves on privacy issues, and keep vigilant in an ever changing information landscape.

8 thoughts on “Big Data is Watching (or single women who are librarians and like cats)

  1. Well, I know it’s not saying much for the area, but I am pretty sure if you searched for “people who live in Green Bay WI and like getting drunk and are proud of it” you’d get the same listing.

    Interesting, though. I gotta run, want to do a search on single old male booklovers who also love cats . . .

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  3. I must say, this is the best example I’ve seen yet of how creepy Graph Search can be. I do grasp the power it could have for good, but it just seems like this sort of technology is more likely to be used by those who we’d prefer keep as far away from it as possible. (I tweeted a link to your post, fyi. Glad to do it!)

    Plus, I have to wonder… what about when someone approaches you in real life, perhaps someone you don’t know well, and says, “Hey, I saw that you like x, y, and z, and went to such-and-such high school! Me too!” Cool, or downright weird? Or what about discovering your own friends in the search results for a not-so-nice query?

    • Thanks! Yes, I definitely agree it would be creepy if someone approached me like that! It all boils down to making people aware of the info they share and educating them on privacy settings that are always changing.

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