Facebook’s “People You May Know” feature is creepy as hell Is there a bigger misnomer in tech than Facebook’s “People You May Know”? A more accurate name would probably be “acquaintances from high school you don’t talk to anymore.” Even a simple “WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE?!” would be fitting. Or maybe we should just call a spade a spade and label “People You May Know” what it really is: the perfect microcosm of everything that’s wrong with Facebook. For the uninitiated, “People You May Know” is exactly what it sounds like: a Facebook tool that surfaces the profiles of other users the platform thinks you may have a connection with. The tool is available in two places — in a widget nestled in the middle of your news feed and in a subsection of your friends tab — meaning that wherever you see your friends, Facebook is there to nudge you with reminders of other people you can also add to your network.
But the question that remains is: What info is Facebook looking at to come up with those recommendations? According to Facebook’s help page, the suggestions come from some pretty common, surface-level data like mutual friends and school networks. Here’s the full list:
A few people who I went on dates with over the years (no mutual connections, but I have their numbers in my phone, so sure) My co-worker’s dad (only one mutual connection. Also WHAT THE HELL, FACEBOOK, NOW I CREEPILY KNOW INFORMATION ABOUT MY COLLEAGUES DAD. WHO ASKED FOR THIS?!)
People who I follow on Instagram, who don’t follow me back and we’ve never met in real life (no mutual connections) The inverse of the above point: People who follow me on Instagram, but I don’t follow back and we’ve never met (no mutual connections) People who I have no mutual friends with and who have curiously incomplete profiles (i.e. no mutual contacts or shared groups/networks, based on the person’s public information)
Of course, it’s impossible to come to any type of definitive conclusions about the feature based on this type of anecdotal information, so Mashable reached out to Facebook to ask if the help page description “People You May Know” is still accurate and if the tool uses any other data to make suggestions beyond what’s listed in the help page.
In response to our inquiry, a Facebook spokesperson said, “Confirming that the help center content is accurate and reflects the most common types of information that inform suggestions.”
That phrase “most common types” seems to be doing a lot of work here in that it signals that other, less common types of data are also at play. However, Facebook didn’t respond to the two follow-up emails asking to clarify about other potential data sources like Instagram and phone contacts. All of which is to say, there seems to be more than just “suggesting people in your network” factored into Facebook’s “People You May Know” suggestions. But what’s actually going on here? Users may never know. The algorithm that governs the feature is a black box, a secret that Facebook holds onto tightly. Trying to crack the code yourself will just result in headaches and more questions.
Take for instance those suggestions that seem to be from your phone contacts. On first glance, it seems like Facebook is simply pulling contacts from your phone without your permission. However, there a few things that may be happening here. First, Facebook has a feature that allows users to automatically upload contact info from their phone to Facebook. Image: Facebook
When I checked my Facebook app settings, because I, too, seem to be getting suggestions based on phone contacts, the feature was turned off. I then checked to see the list of contacts imported through Facebook (you can check here) and it said that there were no imported contacts and no invites sent.
I checked Messenger, and sure enough, the feature was enabled. And then I checked to see if contacts were imported from Messenger aaaannnddd… BINGO!