Facebook is a powerful platform, and maybe more so than you realize. If you really understand the quirks of its search function, for example, you can snoop for all photos posted by single females that a particular friend has liked. Creepy, right?
Facebook has quietly back-burnered the service and focused on other aspects of search. But Graph Search is still functional, although most folks probably don't use it due to its complexity, and the fact that Facebook is no longer pushing it as a discrete service. Now, Belgian "ethical hacker" Inti De Ceukelaire has created a web interface that lets you make the most out of Graph Search, aptly called Stalkscan.
Stalkscan, which launched today, is meant to highlight how much information Facebook users post about themselves, perhaps without thinking about the privacy implications, De Ceukelaire told me over email.
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"Graph Search and its privacy issues aren't new, but I felt like it never really reached the man on the street," De Ceukelaire wrote. "With my actions and user-friendly tools I want to target the non-tech-savvy people because most of them don't have a clue what they are sharing with the public."
Because Graph Search is only available in English on Facebook, the feature wasn't known to many in De Ceukelaire's native Belgium until his tool drew attention to it. Now the Belgian media is having a shitfit, and local reports say that the country's top privacy official has called for an investigation into whether Facebook adequately protects users.
It's important to note that Stalkscan only allows you to use Facebook's existing search functions, and that it won't circumvent privacy settings. In other words, if you're not someone's friend on Facebook already and they've set it so that only friends can see their posts, you won't be able to get around that with Stalkscan.
What it does do is generate boutique search links that Facebook understands. This allows you to make hyper-specific searches that would be nigh-impossible to pull off without Stalkscan. How would one even formulate a sentence to search for, to use the example again, all photos posted by single females liked by a friend? With Stalkscan, that search takes just a few clicks.
"Like most services, we offer a search feature, but search on Facebook is built with privacy in mind," a Facebook spokesperson said in an emailed statement. "[Stalkscan] merely redirects to Facebook's existing search result page. As with any search on Facebook, you can only see content that people have chosen to share with you."
I did manage to use Stalkscan in one instance that would seem to, in spirit at least, violate someone's privacy. One Facebook friend chooses to unlist the "events" button on their public page so that stalkers can't easily find out which parties they've attended. Stalkscan showed me a list of all the past events they've attended when I searched their profile.
As for what people can do to make sure that information they thought was hidden doesn't appear on Stalkscan, De Ceukelaire had some advice. "I'd advise people to check themselves first while logged in into a friend's account," he wrote. "If they see stuff they don't want to, they may want to remove tags, likes or photos from their profile. This way, they at least know what other people can see."
A Facebook spokesperson emphasized that the platform allows users to take control of their privacy, if they wish.
"We offer a variety of tools to help people control their information, including the ability to select an audience for every post, a feature that limits visibility of past posts to only your friends, and education efforts launched in consultation with Belgian safety experts," the spokesperson wrote in a statement.
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