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Hal Licino

Facebook Scanning Private Messages to Increase Like Counts

Oct 09 2012, 09:34 AM by

When the story that Facebook was intercepting messages and automatically Liking specific pages on your behalf but completely without your knowledge, a considerable portion of the internet exploded with rage and disdain against this clear violation of social media ethics. As it turned out, the most egregious violations were caused by an inadvertent bug in the system that has since been squashed, but the bottom line is that yes, under some specific scenarios, some business pages could receive a Like from your account that you not only never authorize, but aren’t even aware of.
Gmail-Like Scanning of One Billion People’s Private Messages
Even though what has turned out to be the case is a far milder version of the Totalitarianware that was originally surmised, what Facebook has implemented is a Gmail-like scanning of all private messages among its one billion plus active users and the automatic tallying of a Like on an external link. So, for example, if you send a friend a private Facebook message that contains this post, then that Like that you see in the left vertical column on this page will be automatically advanced by one.

That really doesn’t seem like such an earth-shattering violation of privacy or personal rights until you consider that there may be all sorts of Facebook entities that you would never consider Liking now receiving that appreciation - through the sheer act of a friend sending you the external link to it. Without going to the extremes of what is possible, we can just imagine the dismay of an iPhonephile discovering that their Like has now increased the total on a RIM BlackBerry page, or that a Linux Ubuntu enthusiast has now caused the Like counter to go up by one on a Microsoft Windows 8 page.
No Context Is Taken into Consideration by the Auto-Like
Since the scanning that Facebook is executing is only seeking the presence of a Like button on the externally linked page, there is no context taken into consideration. The private message you send to a fellow Facebooker could be intended with the maximum derision: “OMG look at what these brain dead morons are doing now” and the recipient would be automatically set to click up the counter of the Likes on that page.
Like: To Feel Attraction Toward or Take Pleasure In
In all fairness, Facebook’s spokesperson has stated that this is the function of a third-party Social Plug-In version of the Like button and that it is intended to demonstrate that there is engagement rather than endorsement. Unfortunately, what Facebook seems to have neglected to address is that the placement of a Like indicates that the Like-r is participating in the manner that the Merriam Webster Dictionary defines the word: to feel attraction toward or take pleasure in. Just because someone you know may feel attraction towards bloody-disgusting.com (along with over 115,000 other people) does not necessarily equate to you sharing that proclivity.

Although it is true that in the words of the Facebook spokesperson: “Absolutely no private information has been exposed and Facebook is not automatically Liking any Facebook Pages on a user's behalf,” the odometer counter on that referenced page does still go up by one unit and that act in and of itself could be objectionable to an indeterminate number of Facebook users. There is literally no end to the connections that particular individuals would not ever want to make with a Like that either directly or indirectly is caused by them, such as an Israeli citizen to anti-Semitic sites; a gay person to a Ugandan site; or an atheist to a Christian site. This auto-Liking could trigger an array of legal trouble for Facebook, as users who are philosophically opposed to various sites could formally object to their Like placements, and that would be a thorny issue to resolve in court.

Posted in Social Media, Online Branding

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