Who's Built a Better Search: the NSA or Facebook?

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The NSA's XKeyscore program, revealed in a new report from The Guardian today, allows agency analysts to run quick searches for people that match certain criteria. In fact, it looked familiar: It looked an awful lot like Facebook's Graph Search.

So we figured we'd see how the two compare. We took searches from the NSA presentation (it's here) and ran them through the Facebook search tool.

Map users

We started with an easy one.

Here's what Facebook gives us when we search for people who like Google Maps and use email. Everyone who has a Facebook account uses email, of course, but we added it as a search term just to make extra sure.

Some of these people (not the ones shown) have public email addresses, NSA. Point for Facebook. (We've blurred the faces and hidden the names. Facebook, of course, does not.) 

Unusual language speakers

One of the identifiers the NSA uses to look for what it calls "anomalous events" is "Someone whose language is out of place for the region they are in." It offers a specific example.

Like so!

Privacy advocates

Another identifier the NSA uses is "someone who's using encryption." (See our primer on encryption if you, too, would like to be suspicious.)

"PGP" is "Pretty Good Privacy," an encryption tool. Facebook's results?

Point NSA.

But enough of this easy stuff.

Cutting to the chase

Or, more broadly:

But Facebook Graph Search does have its limitations.

Remember when people argued that you share more on Facebook than the NSA can see? Yeah, well, they kind of had a point.

Related article: How to make your Facebook posts private.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.