Take your stinkin’ paws off my Facebook search history, you damn dirty API

Facebook is storing your search terms and matching your account to your offline purchases. Here's how to opt out now, before it's too late.

Searching for tips on cross dressing, adult incontinence, or nude pix of Snooki? Don’t do it on Facebook – it might come back to haunt you.

Late last week Facebook announced it is now storing a history of your search terms, a la Google, though exactly why it is doing this they didn’t say. Presumably to better serve you ads and/or mine that data for its own nefarious purposes.

Today, these searches will only be visible to you (and, of course, to Facebook). Tomorrow, though, who knows? Facebook may in its infinite wisdom decide that sharing your searches is also one of the “new norms” for online activity.

The problem with Facebook searches is that, unlike with a normal browser search, you can’t enter incognito or private mode to avoid having your search terms archived in some data center somewhere. You certainly can’t do a fully private search, as you can with DuckDuckGo or StartPage. Like the Sting song says, everywhere you go, everything you do, Facebook is watching you.

Assuming that Facebook will store these search terms for the life of your account, as it does with pretty much everything else you do on the network, these terms could theoretically be subpoenaed if you ever find yourself on the wrong side of the legal system.

Fortunately, you can tell Facebook to sod off, but only for each individual search. There’s no way to simply tick a box that says “Don’t log me, bro.” And in typical Facebook fashion, they’ve made that opt out rather hard to find. Here’s what you need to do.

1. Go to your Timeline page. (Yeah, I know – you hate it, right?)

2. Click Activity Log, in the box next to “Update Info.”

3. Facebook will open a new page listing all your activity, with your posts and apps shown by default.  Click the down arrow inside the box labeled “Posts and Apps” and select “Search.”

facebook search terms adult diapers snooki cropped.png

4. If you’ve run any Facebook searches you’ll see them listed by month, along with two small icons on the right. Click the circle-with-a-slash icon, and then the word “Remove,”  to delete that search from your Timeline Activity Log. You’ll have to click “Remove” again in the dialog box that pops up.

facebook search terms snooki nude remove.png

And viola! That search is expunged from memory. One down, 11,765,239 to go.

Will Facebook permanently delete that search term from its servers? That would be the right thing to do, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s what Facebook will do. I’ve asked for further clarification on this score and will update this post if I get it.

Meanwhile, in related news, CNN has kind of a chilling story about how Facebook is marrying its ad data to your offline purchases via a company called Datalogix.

The idea is that Facebook knows you’ve seen an ad for Depends, let’s say,  but it doesn’t know whether that ad inspired you to rush out and buy adult diapers. Enter Datalogix, which culls loyalty card purchase data from stores and ecommerce sites. Thanks to the data you’ve provided that retailer, Datalogix knows whether you’ve bought diapers lately. It can then match the diaper-buying public to Facebook users who’ve seen those Depends ads, and determine whether there was a spike in diaper purchases among that group following the ad.

According to that report, for every dollar advertisers spend on Facebook ads they get $3 back from additional purchases of those products. I’m not sure I believe that, but I’m skeptical about the effect of advertising in general, let alone Facebook ads.

The Facebook data is anonymized, so neither party knows the names of those who bought the diapers, per the report, but the details as to how that anonymization is done are unknown to us mere mortals. (And as we all know, anonymous data is only anonymous until it isn’t. Re-identification of allegedly anonymous data has become its own peculiar science.)

A better solution? Opt out of Datalogix products entirely. To do that you need to visit Datalogix’ site, go to its privacy page, and fill out a form.

And just when you thought it was safe to go back on Facebook again.

Got a question about social media? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blog eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynanwrites. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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