Facebook Graph Search and Medical Privacy: Is Your Information Private?

Facebook will make graph search widely available soon, and for those concerned about protecting their privacy or medical conditions, it’s a great time to confirm that you’ve adjusted all of the settings necessary to keep your information secure.

Graph search is a semantic search engine that is designed to give answers to a user’s natural question as opposed to a list of generated links that typical search engines provide. Included in graph search results will be:

  • Public posts
  • People
  • Pages
  • Events
  • Applications
  • Groups
  • Places (limitable to a specific location (latitude and longitude) and distance)
  • Check-ins of the user, friends, or where user or friends have been tagged
  • Objects with location information attached. In addition, the returned objects will be those in which the user or friends have been tagged, or those objects that were created by the user or friends.

Users can filter results, such as in time (since and until), or search only a given user’s news feed. The feature also allows users to search the web directly.

Tom Stocky of the search team offered several examples of potential queries during the launch presentation, including,

  • “Friends who Like Star Wars and Harry Potter”
  • For setting up a potential date, “Who are single men in San Francisco and are from India”
  • For employee recruiting, “NASA employees who are friends with people at Facebook”
  • For browsing photos or planning travel, “photos of my friends taken at National Parks”

During its roll-out stage, bloggers showed how Facebook Graph Search could be used to uncover potentially embarrassing information (e.g., companies employing people who like racism) or illegal interests (e.g., Chinese residents who like the banned group Falun Gong).

So what does this mean for those diagnosed with a personal disease like cancer? If you haven’t adjusted your settings, it could mean a number of different things, but one thing is for certain; “Friends who have been diagnosed with cancer” or “Cancer patients in (pick your state)” will result in your name adorning a list of others who may otherwise wish to keep that information private from the general public, employers, or other public industries.

It’s also important to understand that non-private Facebook groups will show up in search results. The information you share in a public group will be searchable via Graph Search. As always, when sharing information on the internet, be cautious to ensure that the group you’re participating in is either private or secret, so that you can discuss medical matters in confidence.

See the infographic below to learn how to make sure your settings are secure and your privacy is ensured.