Essentially with Graph Search search you can search for tailored recommendations based on the thoughts of people who are ‘in the know’. As an example you will be able to search for ‘Music liked by DJs’ and you will get results based on Facebook users who define themselves as DJs and the music they like. You can get much more specific e.g. search for ‘pop music liked by DJs in Basingstoke’ and you would get a list of Basingstoke’s dancefloor fillers.

It all sounds very useful – you can now search for recommendations based on your friends and friends of friends choices. Looking for a restaurant to eat at in Gloucester? Search on Facebook ‘where do my friends eat in Gloucester’ and you’ll get recommendations, with status updates, photos, comments from your friends. Now you know what your friends think without having to ask them – a terrifying prospect in many ways!

Now if we want to get a little more terrifying it also offers up the potential to get more than a little creepy. Facebook stalking is already a weird phenomenon, the voyeuristic element of Facebook that allows people to gather all sorts of information about people they don’t know – you can find out the the places someone has been to, whether they’re in a relationship, what they look like, if they have children and much more just from their profile and status updates.

With Graph Search Facebook have turned this all the way up to 11. With the new feature you can actively search for people who may or may not be friends or friends of friends. Want to find a new stalking target? Search ‘girls in Chichester who like dance anthems, vodka and partying with friends’ and you’ll get a list of girls who like to party and live in Chichester. It’s not a difficult leap of logic to then suggest that those girls are likely to be in Thursday’s nightclub on a Saturday night – make the same search but change dance anthems to Drum n Bass and they’re likely to be there on a Friday night instead.

Simply by liking Drum n Bass or Dance anthems those girls have unwittingly given away much more than they realise, currently doing this on their profile means that at most ‘friends of friends’ can see it – with Graph search anyone can search this information and find out their likes, dislikes etc. and connect this with their location. Like world cinema? Then it would make sense that you can be found at your local art-house cinema. A fan of ‘Scar the Crow‘? They’re playing a gig in your town next week and you’ll probably be there. All of a sudden your real life and online life are easy to link together for complete strangers.

This isn’t just a status search (let’s face it who needs to search through the reams of ‘post this status if you love your mum/husband/sister/child/dog/armadillo’ or ‘if you don’t repost this you pet iguana will die’ statuses). This is a fundamental change in the way your information is viewed and shared on Facebook – and it offers up potential for all sorts of scary activity. It’s also a way for Facebook to monetize that information – we’ve already seen personalised ads, now that Facebook has this more connected database of information it’s not difficult to see that businesses will be able to utilise the data and refine their target audience.

After 9 months of refining and beta testing Graph Search is now being rolled out to US English users. That means it won’t be too long until it is rolled out to UK English and other languages. Now is the time to prepare for the switch, protect your privacy and ensure you only share what you want to share with who you want to share it with – it’ll make life easier later on.

The first thing you need to decide is how much information you want to share in status updates? If you don’t want to share anything with anyone then close your Facebook account. You could set everything to the ‘Only me’ privacy setting but it makes Facebook pretty redundant. If you want to share information about bars, restaurants etc. with your friends then you’ll be looking to select the ‘Friends’ option. Want to share with the world, then select ‘Public’.

Facebook remembers your last used configuration so if you select ‘Friends’ for one status update then remember it will be like that next time you post unless you change.

To make life easier it may be time for Facebook cull. If there are people on your friendlist that you wouldn’t share the update with normally then perhaps it’s time to ‘de-friend’ them. Whilst it sounds brutal as long as they don’t go searching for you on Facebook then they probably won’t realise you’re not linked any more (and if they do go searching for you then they were probably a Facebook stalker anyway…). The alternative to this is to use the ‘restricted’ list that Facebook has setup, adding someone to this list means they won’t see your posts unless they’re set to public.

The next step (and an important one) is to go to your profile and edit the audience boxes for things like location, education etc. Here you can lockdown the information you share in the same way. Just click the edit button next to each section and then use the audience selector (looks the same as the one on a status) to change who can see what. This can be done on each piece of information so you can choose to share some information but not all in the same section.

The only issue left is your friends – if they are likely to tag you in posts, photos etc that you don’t want the public to see via graph search then your only recourse is to review hidden images and statuses via the activity log to ensure that there’s nothing there you don’t want people to see. Bizarrely the ‘review tagging’ feature means those photos and statuses are just hidden from you but visible to the rest of your Facebook bubble.

With these simple steps you have now locked down how you want to be seen through graph search and protected at least some of your privacy. Using Facebook is always going to be a tradeoff for sharing your information but hopefully this article will help you decide what is and isn’t worth trading to use Facebook’s features.

Written by ExtraMile Communications

At ExtraMile we try to take an hour out each week to look around us at what others do and to gain inspiration and to admire people’s creativity. Each post in this series is one staff member’s take on the world of web, design and things online. We hope you enjoy it.