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Privacy concerns as Facebook unleashes new 'Graph Search' function

Facebook is launching its 'Graph Search (opens in new tab)' function for all US English users today. The new search tool is designed to make it easier for users to find specific information about others held by the site, but will no doubt bring its own privacy concerns.

The function works by combining search terms in an attempt to give a specific answer to a query based around information such as location and likes.

If you want to find "friends in London who like Jay-Z and pub food" or "photos of my friends in Leeds," Graph Search is designed to give you the answer. As it is mainly designed to work around what your friends have shared, everyone's results are different.

However, if a user is looking for a more broad search, such as "single 25 year olds in Nottingham" the function will bring up results of friends and non-friends who have made the information public.

Outlining the difference between Graph Search and web search, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said: "Web search is designed to take any open-ended query and give you links that might have answers. Graph Search is designed to take a precise query and give you an answer, rather than links that might provide an answer."

Facebook's privacy settings appear to be unchanged, unlike with previous updates when users' privacy has been completely reset. The difference is it is now much easier for people to find information about users that is already available.

This means that if all your privacy settings set to 'friends only', all of your 800+ friends can carry out detailed searches of all the information that has been added to your profile. For those who still have posts and pictures that are publicly visible, this information could appear in any Facebook users search.

Tom Scott, a tech commentator from London, was was one of those given the chance to test Graph Search before the public launch. In January he outlined the capabilities and potential dangers of the function in a Tumblr blog (opens in new tab).

Scott was able to bring up results for specific searches including "Islamic men interested in men who live in Tehran, Iran (opens in new tab)", where homosexuality is illegal. "People who like English Defence League and Curry (opens in new tab)" and "Married people who like Prostitutes (opens in new tab)" also brought up a number of results.

"If it'd be awkward if it was put on a screen in Times Square, don't put it on Facebook," warns Scott. "Oh, and check your privacy settings again."

Tomas is co-founder of Lucky Pilgrim, a team of journalists, photographers and art directors who connect brands to audiences through words, imagery and design. He was formerly editorial director at Chapel and managing editor at Courier magazine, and was a writer for ITProPortal as well as The Independent, EastLondonLines, The Sunday Times Magazine, and Croon.