Privacy expert orders Facebook to make Social Graph easier to opt-out of

Facebook keyboard

Social networking giant Facebook has been urged to make it easier for users to opt-out of having their data used to generate results for its new Graph Search service.

The firm took the wraps off the beta version of its new search offering earlier this week, which aims to make it easier for users to delve into their friends' interests, checked-in places and photos.

During the launch event, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg said the firm had gone to great lengths to ensure its new offering is "privacy aware" through the rollout of new data protection tools.

The system should be opt-out by default and if users wish to be included they should opt-in.

These include the introduction of Privacy Shortcuts, which allow users to clearly see who can view their content and contact them on the site, and a new mass untag tool.

The latter lets users disassociate themselves from multiple pictures or posts they would rather not be tagged in.

Furthermore, Zuckerberg said, as Graph Search is rolled out across the firm's user base, Facebook members will receive a prompt on the homepage telling them to review the data they have on show.

Industry feedback

Despite the introduction of these measures, concerns about how the new service may infringe on users' privacy have still been raised.

Eden Zoller, principal analyst at market watcher Ovum, said, despite Facebook's reassurances, users will need to keep their guard up.

"[Facebook] claims to have built Graph Search with privacy in mind, but Facebook has a mixed track record on this front and is in the habit of pushing privacy to the limits of what is acceptable," said Zoller.

Meanwhile, independent privacy expert, Alexander Hanff, said Facebook users should have the right to opt-in if they want their information shared via Graph Search.

"It is my belief that the system should be opt-out by default and if users wish to be included they should opt-in," Hanff told IT Pro.

"Since users never submitted their data for the purpose of Facebook creating and monitising search, it is questionable whether or not the move is compliant with the Data Protection Act," he added.

He also suggested Facebook should directly point users to the privacy settings they need to adjust to opt-out of Graph Search.

"[This should include] text overlays explaining exactly what to change and how to change it," he advised. "Anything less is completely unacceptable."

In a statement to IT Pro, Facebook said, while there is no way for users to completely opt out of Graph Search, they can easily control the amount of data featured about them.

"We think it will take time for our users to understand the full potential of Graph Search," said the statement.

"We are going to be working hard to make sure there is plenty of information available from new user education, in-product education, and...our recently announced privacy tools to help users control what they share and find the best way to use the new product," it added.

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.