"Other people you may know on Facebook"--Okay, HOW?

So my wife and I got an email from a woman we know at church; we’ll call her Peggy. It invited us to check out Peggy’s photos on Facebook and, oh by the way, join up. What caught our attention, though, was a squib down toward the bottom of the email. “Other people you may know on Facebook,” it said, and then listed an odd assortment of people:

–Our son, an ardent Facebooker who is away at college;
–One of my wife’s brothers, who lives several states away;
–Three people we know well who are involved at church, but who we see outside of church as well;
–A woman I used to sing with sometimes 8-10 years ago; she lives locally but I haven’t been in contact with her at all for 4-5 years now;
–A woman who lives three states away who was a brief business contact; I haven’t worked with her in over a year;
–And two people neither my wife nor I have ever heard of.

The question is, where does this list come from? It can’t be random; on the other hand, it has too many unknowns and only-sort-of-knowns on it to be a complete picture of who we actually might be acquainted with. We know lots of other people on Facebook as well, including some folks who know Peggy–along with another of my wife’s brothers and a passel of my cousins, none of whom showed up on this list–so it’s not as though they ran out of possible people we knew.

It’s a little alarming that they know so much–and a little peculiar, given how much they know, that there’s also so much they don’t. Anyhow, if anyone can shed some light on How They Do It, we’d love to know more. Thanks.

Your son (and those other people) has you as a contact in his e-mail address contact list on gmail (or wherever). When he signed up, he had the option of giving Facebook access to his gmail/yahoo/hotmail contacts to send out friend invites. Facebook then knew that when your e-mail address reappeared, it would suggest the two of you be friends, since it knows you know each other.

At the same time Facebook keeps changing its privacy policies. If you don’t keep up and actively manage your privacy, Facebook datamines your account.

Nobody knows how Facebook works exactly except for the people that work on it. Their matching algorithms are carefully guarded. The general idea though is to base matches on statistics. If many of your other friends have the same friend, it takes a bet that you know that other person as well and suggests it as a friend match. This information builds up like a spiderweb and becomes oddly smart as their database and algorithms get stronger. They also scan e-mail contacts when allowed to build even stronger data and they may obtain independent information from other sources like classmate lists. It is an intelligent system that figures things out on its own rather than just using brute force or blind guesses based on what it already knows. It is spooky but not all that mysterious even if the details are secret. The more friends you add, the more easily it can make suggestions for you but your friends list helps it figure out things about other people as well.

I have a feeling they also suggest people who have searched for your name on facebook, but probably won’t admit it because it would ruin the fun of “facebook stalking”

I believe they’re just mutual friends of your friends. For example, if several of your friends each have another friend in common (but you don’t), it thinks there’s a good chance you too know that person and it recommends them.

The OP doesn’t state it explicitly, but he implies that neither he nor his wife is already a member of Facebook. The e-mail contact list explanation (what Facebook calls “Friend Finder”) seems the most likely to me.

Yeah, the email list is right.

It amazes me that anyone would ever give Facebook access to their email accounts.

It’s amazingly ridiculous that they even ask, but lots of “social networking” sites do the same thing. For example: linkedin.com.

As far as I know, they only get access to the contacts, and say they will help you find those people on facebook. Since that’s the entire point of facebook (to communicate with people you know), I don’t see why people wouldn’t do it. It’s a lot faster than having to go through and look up each person individually.

And, if I remember correctly, you actually specify which people get added. It’s just that some people are lazy and just click on through, selecting everyone.

I give Facebook access to my throwaway gmail account. None of the people I actually correspond with do so through that account.

This makes no sense at all.

No, you give them your login credentials for those email accounts. That means that they can look at everything that’s accessible through those credentials, even if they don’t actively exploit it for most people (and Facebook’s record wrt privacy is pretty dismal)

Yes it does. Lots of people have accounts that they give out to businesses when forced to give one but never check it. It is just a Spam and promotional morgue.

I was pointing out that I don’t give Facebook access to anything important by giving them access to my gmail account. My real account, with my proper name and info is not on facebook.

Yes, but AFAIK you’re not required to give out your email AND PASSWORD to facebook, it’s just that they ask for them.

ETA: and giving out credentials to non-used email adresses at best doesn’t give you any benefit.

But why give them access to that one at all? Email login credentials are not required by facebook. The only reason to do so is for your convenience, to find people you know. It’s like volunteering for a survey and then making up the answers; it only wastes their time and yours.

So that’s how they might have suggested my aunt to me? She let them look at her contacts and she popped up when I logged in?

That one weirded me out a little bit. None of my contacts (at that time) were in any way related to that side of the family that lives on the other side of the country and I didn’t let them have access to my contacts. One day, she’s on the suggestions. Along with a couple cousins.