Facebook Quietly Makes Changes To Controversial Graph Search Tool

Last week, Facebook made some under-the-radar changes to its Graph Search tool that made it harder to search for publicly available user info on the site. This is a win for user privacy, but according to critics, it could also seriously hurt investigators who use the feature to perform valuable work.

Graph Search, which launched six years ago, let users search in plain language instead of via keywords, and also allowed for the filtering of search results by very specific criteria, including whether or not a user had ever visited a city, or whether they were with another Facebook user in the same place. And while Facebook has made it more difficult to obtain this information, private investigators who rely on the tool say that the change could do more harm than good.

“Now that Graph Search has gone down, it’s become evident that it’s used by some incredibly important section[s] of society, from human rights investigators and citizens wanting to hold their countries to account, to police investigating people trafficking and sexual slavery, to emergency responders,” said Nick Waters, a member of the online investigative organization Bellingcat, in an interview with VICE.

Cases like this are the perfect illustration of how, no matter what it does, Facebook can’t really win. Limiting Graph Search is undoubtedly a good thing for some of its users’ privacy — but by doing so, the social media giant has inadvertently harmed another group of people.

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