The Truth About The Latest Facebook Privacy Scare Everyone Is Talking About

When a Facebook user sends a link to a Web page via a private Facebook message, that Web page will get an extra “Like,” if it is a Facebook-“Like”-able Web page.

The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and Gizmodo are portraying this as a privacy invasion for Facebook users.

It is not.

There is a simple reason why.

That “Like” is only added to the page’s counter. There is no way to tell who added the like, however.

If you do not reveal something said or shared in private to others, you are not invading their privacy.

Here is a demonstration.

I sent this private message to my coworker, Alyson Shontell:

private facebook message

In it, I share a link to the Facebook page. This message gave Grantland another “like.”

However, Grantland was not added to my list of “likes” – viewable to friends. 

See for yourself:

list of likes

There is no reason for anyone to be upset about Facebook doing this.  For one, email providers like Gmail scan user emails all the time. Gmail does it to show relevant ads, fight spam, and slow down viruses.

For another, services across the Internet use whatever method they can to keep track of the popularity of Webpages. Google has a list of trends. The New York Times keeps track of most emailed stories:

NYT most emailed

The truth is, there is nothing to see here. Move along.

UPDATE: Facebook got back to us with the following statement, which confirms my theory:

“Absolutely no private information has been exposed. Each time a person shares a URL to Facebook, including through messages, the number of shares displayed on the social plugin for that website increases. 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. 

We did recently find a bug with our social plugins 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. To be clear, this only affects social plugins off of Facebook and is not related to Facebook Page likes. This bug does not impact the user experience with messages or what appears on their timelines.”

From our developer documentation at:

What makes up the number shown on my Like button?

The number shown is the sum of:

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