Facebook graph search concerns parents

New feature allows anyone to search for a member in a group, then connect

By Bill Spencer - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - Facebook is the ultimate social connection tool for teenagers.

Everyday millions of American teens share their photos, stories and personal information on this social network. But up until now, you could not access a teenagers Facebook page without knowing them, or at least being a friend of a friend.

Now, all of that is changing thanks to a brand new Facebook feature called Graph Search.

With Graph Search, you don't need to know someone, instead you can search for members of different groups.

To prove it, Local 2's Bill Spencer visited a group of 14- and 15-year-old students who attend Cypress Ranch High School to see if he could punch up the Facebook pages of their friends who were kids he had never met and should not be able to contact.

"How about this girl," Spencer asked.

"Oh yes, yes, I know her," different teens in the group shouted out. "She is 14 years old".

Spencer asked again and again, "how about this one?" 

"Yeah, yeah, she is 15," they said.

In all, Spencer found more than 20 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17, all friends of the students in the group.

According to Facebook, Graph Search is designed so people can't find minors under 18 years old with this new tool. 

But Local 2 did, again and again.

That's because so many teenagers lied years ago to get on to Facebook at an early age. 

Now years later, those same teens have grown up on Facebook and while they may be minors in real life, on Facebook they are over 18.

Senior Deputy Russell Ackley is an investigator in the Special Victim's Unit at Harris County Sheriff's Department. He calls Graph Search a very powerful tool for pedophiles trolling for young, teenage targets.

"It's like allowing a pedophile into your own home," he said.

"I think the most shocking part is to know that people can get access to your children," said Christine Kwan, a Cypress mother of two.

Neither Kwan, her daughter Alexa or Deputy Ackley had ever heard of Graph Search until now. 

Still, they said they realize what this new tool could do for the people out there looking to hurt your children.

"It would allow them to go find them, see them, and hunt them down," Kwan said.

Copyright 2013 by Click2Houston.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.