For the past six months, a select group of Facebook users have had a chance to try out the site's hyped "Graph Search" function. For those unfamiliar with it, Facebook's Graph Search function is kind of like a regular search function, only more complicated. But the bottom line is that it indexes everyone's public posts, likes, photos, interests, etc. to make them as easy as possible for everyone else — from friends to exes to cops to advertisers to your boss — to find.
Facebook opened Graph Search to a limited audience earlier this year, but it's rolling it out to everyone over the next couple of weeks, starting this week. So if you were waiting for the right time to go through your privacy settings and hide the embarrassing stuff before the whole world sees it, you can stop waiting. The right time is now.
Some have called Graph Search a privacy nightmare, because it takes information that was hard to find and makes it easy to find. For instance, if you for some reason hit "like" on the page of radical Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki three years ago, your name and face might now pop up when someone at the FBI gets the bright idea on a slow day to search Facebook for "people who like Anwar al-Awlaki."
If Graph Search is a privacy nightmare, it's sort of like the kind in which you find yourself out in public with no clothes on. The bad news is that what's seen can't be unseen. But the good news is that it won't happen if you're already dressed. That is, Graph Search won't take any information that you had set to private (or "friends-only") and turn it public. So if you don't want strangers to see your profile's naughty parts, you can go to your Facebook privacy settings right now and cover them up.
There's an easy way and a hard way to do this. The (relatively) easy way is to click "limit past posts," which will turn all of your old posts to "friends only" in a single swoop. But if you want some things to stay public, or to be visible to friends of friends, you'll need to do it the hard way, which is to click "Use Activity Log" and go through all of your old posts one by one. Oh, and you'll also want to double-check the privacy settings on your "About" page, which controls who can see the basic information on your profile.
Again, the basics are:
Go to your privacy settings and check who can see your future posts and past posts.
To hide individual posts or likes, click "Use Activity Log" and scroll down through your history, editing the privacy settings for each one as you go.
To check who can see your profile information, go to the About page on your profile and click the "edit" button next to each category.
Oremus is the lead blogger for Future Tense, reporting on emerging technologies, tech policy and digital culture.