Facebook clarifies how Like plugin works, addresses privacy concerns

Facebook responded to reports today that alleged the social network was scanning private messages and Liking pages on users’ behalf.

The company clarified that the Like count of an article or webpage will increase when users share the link via direct messages, however no private information is shared. URLs sent through private messages are not shown publicly on user profiles and users will not see a friend’s name or photo next to a Like button if the person shared the article privately.

When publishers implement social plugins such as the Like, Recommend, Share or Send buttons, they and site visitors can see a counter of how many actions have been made related to that link. It isn’t completely clear to outsiders that the total includes actions that were made by clicking the button directly, as well as the number of times the link was copy-pasted into a Facebook post or message, which is why some users thought the social network had a security flaw. However, Facebook explains this in the FAQ about the Like button plugin.

Facebook notes that no human is reading users’ private messages. Its systems parse the URL being shared in order to render the appropriate preview and to ensure that the message is not spam. In the process, it also adds to the link’s share total. The company admitted that the feature recently had a bug that led the count for the Share or Like plugin to occasionally increase by two instead of one, but it is working on a fix so that publishers have accurate metrics for their sites. This does not apply to Facebook pages, only to third-party sites that have implemented social plugins.

Some people taken issue with Facebook adding private shares to the public total for a link, though we see this as similar to site visitor widgets, which increase whenever a user visits a webpage but do not reveal who visited. Even if the privacy implications are minimal, there is the matter of all these actions being combined under the “Like” or “Recommend” wording, which suggests positive feelings, even though some users might have shared a link that they disagreed with wanted to talk about for reasons besides recommending it. This might look good for publishers but doesn’t necessarily reflect the true sentiment about a post.