Facebook Friend Recommendations -- How Do They Work?

This has been bothering me.

I have a Facebook page, sort of. There is absolutely nothing on it. But I apparently had to create one to look at the pages of other people, and I wanted to keep an eye on a sibling who seemed to be slipping into a strange mental state. I and the rest of the family were worried about him.

So he’s my Facebook friend. So is another sibling (who also doesn’t really use his page).

That’s it. I have never posted anything to Facebook. Not a word. Not a single picture.

And yet Facebook keeps giving me these friend recommendations.

Some of them are strange. There’s a huge number of people who live in the Dominican Republic. I don’t understand this. I’ve never been there. I’m not even sure I know anyone from there.

But some of them are disturbingly on target. It’s really starting to creep me out.

The doorman of my apartment building turned up as a recommendation. An ex-girlfriend. Co-workers. Co-workers from the distant past. Relatives of my wife (and they’re relatives she’s not even close to, and she doesn’t have any kind of Facebook page at all). And plenty more like that.

My theory is that accessing Facebook (to keep an eye on the sibling I’m worried about) through Chrome allows them to read my email (at least the email I get at my gmail address). But I have no idea.

How does this work? It’s terrifying.

It isn’t terrifying unless your life an extreme lifestyle. The basic, very winning, idea of Facebook is that they will find people you know without you having to do much of anything.

For a new user like yourself, the major strategy is to scan old e-mail messages from people you sent them to or vice-versa and then matched them up with your profile when you registered (they don’t do that without permission at least from the person that received one from you). That is where most of the hits are coming from although there will be a large number of false negatives.

Once you start building your Friends network by accepting requests or sending them, it is just a statistical problem to figure out other people you know. For example, if ten of your friends know someone, the chances are good that you do too. Again there is a lot of guessing and false negatives in there but it tends to work very well.

Facebook also uses other strategies like suggesting people that looked you up or the other way around. The vast majority of it is simple strategies even if it seems like black magic at first.

There is no reason to be afraid of it. If you are worried, it has plenty of reasonable security settings that you can set yourself. I have mine almost completely locked down so that only existing Friends can see much of anything. Other people leave theirs wide open so that anyone can see just about anything about them including their location, job, photos and everything else. It sounds like you might want to be more on the conservative side and shutdown almost everything.

The good thing about Facebook is that almost everything is customizable. I constantly hear people complaining that others are filling up their feed with stuff they don’t want to see. I have no sympathy for that because it just means that they have no idea how to shut that stuff off. You can shut off game notifications for a start but also hide comments from certain people or even certain kinds of comments. My feed is nothing but baby and pet pictures, birthday wishes and photos of important life events. It doesn’t take long to set yours up the same way or any other.

Well, that was my question. Facebook is reading my email? That’s a surprise.

I did check all the settings about who can see what, or who can contact me. But I definitely don’t remember seeing a setting granting or denying Facebook permission to read my email.

No, not yours unless gave them permission to by mistake and, even then, it doesn’t work the way you seem to think. It works in the opposite direction as well. For example, if you someone an email years ago and that person gave them permission to see their contacts (you in this case), it will try to associate you with that person when you register with the same e-mail address. Those are just suggestions though. You can take them or leave. It does nothing beyond that.

It doesn’t read your e-mail in any case. It is just looking for associations based on e-mail addresses, not the content. The latter is reserved for the NSA and there is nothing you can do to stop that because it is much more far reaching than the old Soviet KGB ever was. You can’t avoid that even by staying off of Facebook.

Well, try to think critically. The same thing happened to me. I created a random handle Facebook page, just to connect to a friend’s band’s page. I used one of my real emails to do this. And Facebook found an old acquaintance via this email.

If you created a Yahoo or Google email, just for Facebook, and you purge your Yahoo and Google cookies on every device that checks this email every time, then yeah, I don’t know how Facebook found obscure friends.

Otherwise, Google yourself, you’ll find stuff you forgot you were connected with from years ago. As was said, that is the way Facebook works. It is, after all, its original function, to help college kids connect via their interests and already existing connections.

Remember, the SLA found Patty Hearst via a card catalog kept by her University of all student’s personal information. Pre-SLA kidnapping, it was considered something people would want – easy connections to people with similar interests. MySpace, Facebook, and now LinkedIn are just slightly anonymized, computerized, re-enactments of an ancient meme stretching back to Industrial times.

You have to know that when person A searches Facebook for person X, and especially if A looks at X’s page for several seconds, Facebook remembers that there may be a link between the two. Even if they don’t chat or “friend” each other. Same thing if B searches for X. And eventually Facebook may infer that A and B may know each other too because they have this common interest in person X, even if they’ve never searched for each other directly.

Facebook can also use your location as a clue. This can be inferred from your mobile phone’s location or your Internet provider’s location info. If you live in Albuquerque and you look for Jane Doe on Facebook, it will show you the Jane Does from metropolitan Albuquerque first (unless you have “friends” in Houston who happen to know a Jane Doe). And if Jane Doe doesn’t have an account yet, when she does create one, Facebook may suggest you as a friend because you were looking for her the previous year.

As others have mentioned, the Facebook app for mobile phones and tablets can also look at your address book and may suggest people this way. I think it’s possible to turn off this address book snooping.

Likely explanation for your doorman: either he did a Facebook search for the names of tenants (or for you personally:eek:), or some tenants did a Facebook search for him and for you. Either way, Facebook now views that apartment building as a group.

For your ex-girlfriend: she searched for your name, or a few people searched for both your names, or you both searched for a few common friends.

… and so on.

How many times has this thread topic come up? – Probably dozens.

I created a totally new Gmail account, and then a totally new Facebook account with that Gmail account.

At first, I had no phone number tied to the Facebook account. I gradually added some names to the Gmail contacts list, and sent some random emails. After a while, Face book did recommend a few people whom I didn’t know.

Then, I added a phone number–but not my own. I added the number of a friend who lives in another city (with her permission).

Suddenly I was getting lots of friend recommendations, and sure enough, they weren’t anyone one I know. They were all people that my friend in the other city knows. It’s clear that a very large number of friend recommendations come from the other people on Facebook that have your phone number in their contact lists. (Not just your email.)

This is confirmed by those total strangers who show up in my “real” Facebook account as recommendations, whose telephone number used to belong to someone I knew.

No ads?

I keep getting ones involving semi-foxy Hispanic women, even though I’ve never joined the group “Mail-Order Brides of the Caribbean”. :dubious: