Is Facebook Scanning Your Messages And Adding Likes? Not Quite…

There has been much discussion over the past day about the number of Facebook Likes that webpages and content are reported to have off the site itself. Apparently this number will increase even if no one actually clicks the Like button on the respective Facebook Page. Another topic for scrutiny is a privacy matter, where it was believed that private messages sent on Facebook were being scanned for their content and then used to bolster this reported number of Likes.

Many companies, brands and so forth now have a Facebook ‘Likes’ counter on their site, indicating their popularity. However, a security researcher in the US has discovered that simply sending a web address to another Facebook user via the private message function within the social network would add two Likes to that page. The counter also includes the number of times that people comment upon posts and Like content on a page, not specifically just the number of people who have ‘Liked’ that Facebook Page as a whole.

Facebook has explained the four actions that add to this tally in documentation relating to the function of the Like button:

  • The number of likes of the web page
  • The number of shares of this page (this includes copy/pasting a link back to Facebook)
  • The number of likes and comments on stories on Facebook about this page
  • The number of inbox messages containing the web address as an attachment.

While people may be worried that their private messages are being scanned, a Facebook spokesperson explained to Mashable what was actually happening:

“Our systems parse the URL being shared in order to render the appropriate preview, and to also ensure that the message is not spam. These counts do not affect the privacy settings of content, and URLs shared through private messages are not attributed publicly with user profiles.”

Web-based email services such as Gmail have been taking this approach from some time to target its users with adverts or to protect against viruses. The spokesperson added: “We did recently find a bug with our social plug-ins where at times the count for the Share or Like goes up by two, and we are working on fix to solve the issue now.”

However, when people might be sharing a link with their friends to say “avoid this company like the plague”, it might have the opposite effect for other people as this will still count as a ‘Like’ on that company’s site counter. An online commentator pointed out that “if [you’re] visiting an online store and you see a lot of likes under the product then this might cloud your judgement”.

What are your views on this whole matter? Is the Like counter a misleading figure? Please leave your opinion in the comments section below.