Facebook gets creepy

Matthew Bietz —  July 3, 2009 — 1 Comment

facebook_suggestionFacebook has been playing with their friend suggestion algorithms, and people are starting to notice. Last week FB suggested I become a friend with one of the participants in my research. I am pretty liberal with accepting friend requests, but that is a line I try not to cross. But what surprised me was that we have no common friends and have no other common interests or memberships on the site. But in the end my own reaction was mostly one of curiosity – what data sources led them to make this match?

But I’ve also seen recently that some people are reacting with outrage. Here’s from a discussion list I saw today:

Mega facebook wtf. I just looked at my suggested friends and found…my mum’s ex. My mum isn’t on facebook. I haven’t spoken to him in years, neither has she. We have no friends or anything else listed as in common. People worry about google but it’s Facebook that scares the !@#^& out of me.

  • He searched for you.
  • This also happened to me. Caused me to lock down my profile.
  • Oh, another thing it does: if you’ve ever given it access to your email contacts to see if anyone you know is on Facebook, it hangs onto those. If anyone ever joins with one of those email addresses they’ll show up in Suggested Friends.
  • yes. quite a few people from a company i used to work for (and quit unceremoniously, but with much yelling over the phone) have come up under suggested friends. i don’t have any contacts who are contacts with them nor have i ever even entered their names or the name of the company into facebook. it freaks me out.

It turns out I’m not the only one to notice these recent changes. When FB was just suggesting friends-of-friends, it was pretty easy to figure out how the suggestion was made. Or FB would tell you how it made the match: “You and Brandon Walsh both went to West Beverly High School.” While FB may actually be improving the accuracy of its predictions (in all these cases, it did predict real contacts, although maybe not “friends”), it also may be straying too far to the creepy side of social networking. It wonder if the unease will persist, or if it’s another “people will get used to it” situation.

Matthew Bietz

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One response to Facebook gets creepy

  1. I think LinkedIn is doing roughly the same thing. There was a situation like this in my own life a few months ago where I couldn’t figure out how LinkedIn found out about a person.

    To be honest, I give Facebook about a 50% chance of being a front for a three-letter agency. Even if it wasn’t originally started up as one, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s how they are getting some of their funding now.

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