Facebook Is Reading Your Messages and Liking Things For You (Updated: Not as Bad as We Thought)S

You might think clicking "Like" is the only way to stamp that public FB affirmation on something—you're wrong. Facebook is checking your private messages and automatically liking things you talk about. Update: Sort of.

The scanning which is either an oversight on Facebook's part of a deliberate effort—we're waiting to hear back from FB increases the Like count for a given page Like-able link just by you talking about it. Auto-scanning is nothing new: Gmail has done it since day one to serve us ads. But there are serious potential personal consequences here—what if I'm talking about something disgusting, loathsome, and offensive with a friend? Do I want Facebook to automatically chalk that up as a Like? No. And I doubt you do either.

The auto-liking could also be a big deal for those who want to artificially inflate their popularity online—say, people with something to sell. "Yeap, it won't drive any traffic to your website. But if your [sic] visiting an online store and you see a lot of likes under the product then this might cloud your judgement," notes one commenter on Hacker News, where the mechanism was first reported.

To test the auto-scanning, message this link to a friend—it should increase the like count by two. I was able to independently verify the same effect by messaging a link to singer The-Dream's official page to a friend. It increased his Likes without me ever clicking the button. As much as I truly to Like (and love!) The-Dream, this isn't how it's supposed to work, Facebook. It turns out this was just a very unlikely coincidence that played out in more than one place—the auto-liking only applies to external links with embedded Facebook liking. So, say I send someone a private Facebook message with a Gizmodo post, which contains a Like button. That will increase the counter, not talking about The-Dream on FB itself.

So your name isn't being associated publicly with something you're talking about privately—but if even a mention is enough to kick up a Like, it seems like that's pretty heavily diluting (even further) what "like" even means—from preference to mere reference. Would you say every single proper noun you utter each day should be something you like? [Hacker News via Forbes]

Update: According to a Facebook spokesperson, although messaging will auto-increase a page or link's Like count, it won't publicly associate you with that Like. In other words, your identity won't be exposed. The full statement is below:

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.

Update 2: Facebook has further clarified the auto-like mechanism, explaining that Facebook Pages aren't affected:

Absolutely no private information has been exposed and Facebook is not automatically Liking any Facebook Pages on a user's behalf.

Many websites that use Facebook's 'Like', 'Recommend', or 'Share' buttons also carry a counter next to them. This counter reflects the number of times people have clicked those buttons and also the number of times people have shared that page's link on Facebook. When the count is increased via shares over private messages, no user information is exchanged, and privacy settings of content are unaffected. Links shared through messages do not affect the Like count on Facebook Pages.

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.