Facebook search feature flagged as dangerous

Darryn Smith

FEDERAL and state authorities have warned a new Facebook search mechanism could open new doors for would-be predators on social media sites.

Facebook announced the "Graph Search" feature last Wednesday but has yet to say when Australian users will have access to it.

The new feature allows members to search for others based on location, interests, experiences or photos they have put on Facebook.

It was released on the same day Facebook, Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft agreed to a Federal Government plan ensuring the four would set guidelines, educate users on behaviour and create avenues for complaints and government contact.

The Queensland Police Service and Australian Federal Police flagged the dangers of searching people based on their personalities.

New South Wales Police Force declined to comment.

A spokeswoman for AFP said they were aware of it whereas Queensland Police declined to speak about Facebook specifically.

Queensland Police Fraud and Corporate and Crime Group Detective Superintendent Brian Hay said for predators online, any function like Graph Search could allow them to make themselves a "honey pot".

By creating a persona who is a fan of certain bands and restaurants, users in the area may seek them out.

"If you want to act as a predator, you may not have to chase (your targets)," Det Supt Hay said.

"You could be in a position where they come to you - it rings alarm bells."

Det Supt Hay said however, most would use the new search the way Facebook intended: "innocently and in good faith".

A spokeswoman for AFP said with Facebook being hosted in the United States, it was difficult terrain for authorities to navigate.

Regardless of the site, she said caution was key when considering what personal information should go online.

"Collection of this personal information can allow potential criminals to build profiles, from which they are able to use many methods to target victims," she said.

This included email, instant online messaging, SMS or even through bulletin boards.

A Facebook spokesman said Graph Search would only run on information already made public by members.

"Search follows privacy settings, which means users can search for information about you they can already see elsewhere on Facebook, based on what's shared with them," he said.

"Safety has always been a top priority for Facebook."

Det Supt Hay said it was not Facebook in particular he was concerned about, but social media on the internet in general.

"We've had instances of accounts that have been breached," he said.

"To me, the concept of privacy and the internet is a redundant notion."

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