Facebook determines who you interact with, the profiles you look at and who you have become friends with (rather than your news postings or something on your newsfeed) by using what computer scientists and mathematicians call an algorithm. An interesting bit of research has been done by Stanford University student Jeremy Keeshin who attempts to understand how the “who does Facebook think you are searching for” algorithm works. Ever seen “Are they your friends too?” on Facebook?
Jeremy created a web browser bookmarklet JSON file (Facebook Friends) which allows you to see an ordered list of who the Facebook algorithm thinks you are looking for. Call this Facebook stalking if you wish – most users know what I’m talking about here – we all like to look at other profiles and see what people are up to. Most of what Facebook collects about you and your friends and profiles you view, can be seen from a client PC (check out the XHR requests) using for example Firefox Firebug or Chrome Inspector. Bet you didn’t know this!
You need to be on Facebook for the bookmarklet (Facebook friends) to work. Install it on your bookmark toolbar and click on it and you will see how facebook ranks who you look at, friends of friends and who looks at your profile. The higher the minus figure the higher the friend ranking. So it’s this figure that defines ‘friends’ “who you might be looking for” in Facebook. To be able to use the bookmarklet you will need to turn off HTTPS with Facebook.
When I ran the bookmarklet I did notice that some names in the ranking were friends of my friends (and people looking at my profile who didn’t know me or any of my friends) who were looking at my page, as opposed to me looking at them. Others who ran the bookmarklet also identified this. I also noticed that recent profile searches were showing much higher up. It’s also very clear that Facebook uses an algorithm to index users – in so far that the lower the number the earlier people show up in your search results.
This got me thinking about LinkedIn which allows users to see who looked at their profiles, I wonder how long it will be before Facebook does the same thing? Privacy control anyone? LinkedIn has “What others see when you’ve viewed their profile” which allows users to be anonymous (some data like title/industry) or totally anonymous, so to some extent users can search other profiles on LinkedIn and no one will know who has looked over that persons profile. As for completely hiding your profile on Facebook or LinkedIn (you can just limit or remove sensitive data), there isn’t much point on being on these social websites if you want to be hidden from everyone.
Safe surfing folks!