Facebook has just made it a little less easy to snoop on its users – at least by using the social giant’s publicly available features and tools – and at least temporarily.
There are more than two billion people who use Facebook, and “graph search” made it convenient to discover and pinpoint their activities on the platform by using keywords and data ranges.
Some of the results that could be obtained in his way included “all of the people who like a certain Facebook Page and live in a particular city, or places visited by two specific users,” a report from VICE said.
But now, Henk Van Ess, of what’s described as the online investigative organization Bellingcat, announced that “most” of these tools are down, and did so in a direct message on Twitter, the author of the article, Joseph Cox, said.
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Cox, who previously attended Bellingcat’s “open source intelligence course,” said that members of the open source intelligence (OSINT) had in the past gone many steps further in making Facebook’s graph search an even more efficient and precise data probing tool.
Some of these, for example, worked by “finding all of the photos a Facebook user had commented on.”
But now Facebook has modified the features that allowed for this functionality, reportedly rendering most of these tools useless.
This could be taken as a proof that Facebook’s announced “pivot to privacy” was not merely hot air from CEO Mark Zuckerberg as he has been forced to deal with an avalanche of criticism his company.
But on the other hand, even this move is causing criticism of the tech giant.
On the one hand, graph search capabilities have been used by companies to gather information on Facebook users to build massive databases. But VICE writes that groups working “in the public interest” and wanting to go through social media in order to uncover evidence of such things as “airstrikes in Yemen” are now also on the receiving end of Facebook’s changes.
In fact, the article finds the disruption caused by the absence of these features to be more problematic than laudable, as it’s leaving “human rights investigators, citizens wanting to hold their countries to account, police investigating people trafficking and sexual slavery, emergency responders” – all reportedly without a valuable tool.
Facebook has responded to the situation in an email to Motherboard to say that as most Facebook users go for keyword search on the platform, the company has now “paused some aspects of graph search” and is focusing “more on improving keyword search.”
But tellingly, Facebook added that they are now “working closely with researchers to make sure they have the tools they need to use our platform.”