Facebook just keeps getting creepier and creepier.
January 9, 2012 4:35 PM   Subscribe

How does Facebook know my ex-boyfriend's name, and why is it showing me the profile of someone with the same name as a search result before any of my actual friends?

Last night I typed the first two letters of a friend's name into the search box at the top of Facebook. Let's say her name is "Joanna" - I typed in "Jo". In the list of results that pops up as you type, the first hit was the name of an ex-boyfriend, "John Doe". I can't see much of the profile, but what I can see indicates that it's not actually the ex in question, but is someone else from the same (small, remote) part of the world with the same name. I am not and never have been friends with John Doe on Facebook (to my knowledge he didn't have a profile). Now someone else with his name is coming up and is being listed as a search result above all of my actual friends who match the search query.

What's going on? How does Facebook know I dated a John Doe? And why is it serving up some other John Doe as the first result in a search for "Jo"? Bonus: can I make it stop?
posted by ootandaboot to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I've heard that you can tell who has been looking at your profile in part by seeing who comes up first when you search by letter or by who they "suggest" you add as a friend. Perhaps he's been searching you? I can't see why that would give you other people with his name though..
posted by Maias at 4:38 PM on January 9, 2012


Have you ever searched your ex-boyfriend's name in the past? Facebook often keeps track of past searches and displays them at the top of the results, so if you searched John Doe a year ago, it may be remembering that.
posted by alligatorman at 4:39 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do you have friends who are also friends with either John Doe, either your actual boyfriend or maybe someone else by that name?
posted by Sara C. at 4:44 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


FB's search function and "people you may know" includes every single email address you've ever sent email to, EVER, from the account you signed up with. If you've ever emailed your ex from your email that you used to sign up for FB - it knows his name.

(Or rather, it knows his email, but close enough.)

Why it's then showing someone else with the same name? Dunno. Glitch in the matrix.

I always hit the "x" on the box for "You May Know This Person" when this very quirk lead to suggesting that I friend say, my ex mother-in-law. See also: previous employers. Person I emailed once in 2003. Etc. Sometimes it takes more than once for it to get the hint.
posted by sonika at 4:52 PM on January 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


FB's search function and "people you may know" includes every single email address you've ever sent email to, EVER, from the account you signed up with.

This only happens when a user imports email and/or messaging contact lists via Facebook's "Find Friends" feature.
posted by jamaro at 4:59 PM on January 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yes, it usually is a result of them mining your email addresses. Contrary to popular myth, there is no functionality or feasible way to know "who has been viewing your page" - all those things are scams.

And yeah, it's a well-known phenomenon that eventually anyone left who has mutual friends with you who you haven't friended yet, there's a damn good reason. Thus "People you may know" becomes almost exclusively populated with exes and hated former co-workers.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:01 PM on January 9, 2012 [15 favorites]


I suspect there is a phone number correlation too. I had an absolutely mind-boggling "someone you may know" moment with a work contact. The only thing I can figure is that Facebook got ahold of his phone's address book somehow, which my number would be in, because that's the only way it could have correlated it. And it wasn't my address book, because there are tons of other people in my phone book who haven't shown up as potential friends.
posted by gjc at 5:14 PM on January 9, 2012


I set up a fake FB account with an email address and phone number I've not given any other person on the planet. You know, for science. I friended random people (the first people FB would recommend were people in the same fake city and that like the same fake things I do). The friend suggestions I get now are completely based on friends of "friends." What is odd is how I'll get friend requests from these friends of friends all the time. I will happily accept their requests because, well why not? With each new "friend" I get more recommendations on friends. All of these people seem to know each other. Then again, I don't know any of them.
posted by birdherder at 5:59 PM on January 9, 2012 [16 favorites]


Regarding search, I don't know what's up with the way random people will pop up before your friends, but it bothers me, too. I wonder if the search feature is just busted or overloaded from having millions more members than it used to.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:10 PM on January 9, 2012


I wonder if the search feature is just busted or overloaded from having millions more members than it used to.
Friend matching is a hugely important feature for Facebook, so I wouldn't bet on it being broken for long. More likely, they are trying out new algorithms.

Most likely, ootandaboot and ootandaboot's ex share enough friends that Facebook is inferring a potentially good match. This is particularly true of the two had a diverse social circle so that a lot of their friends are connected to them, but not to many of their other friends. Stuff like that pops up pretty quickly when you have a rich social graph, as FB does.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:50 PM on January 9, 2012


there is no functionality or feasible way to know "who has been viewing your page"

True for a user. Absurdly laughable if you mean that Facebook doesn't know who's been viewing your page.

Facebook knows who you've been looking at and who everyone else has been looking at.
posted by toomuchpete at 10:10 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Facebook knows who you've been looking at and who everyone else has been looking at.

Seriously. Long time ago, I knew a girl whose brother's friend worked at Facebook. Anyway, long story short, he was visiting for a weekend and said Facebook could tell (with varying levels of accuracy) who would start dating (I assume they judged this by changing their relationship status) within the next two weeks. And this was in 2007. Lord knows what they can tell now.

Thoughts: maybe it actually is the ex in question, but he has a weird profile? Or maybe it's another John Doe who mistyped his email as the John Doe you know's when signing up for Facebook (i.e. "john.b.doe@gmail.com" vs. "john.doe@gmail.com"), and when Facebook harvested email addresses from you, it assumes that is the John Doe you know?
posted by good day merlock at 8:11 AM on January 10, 2012


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