July 13, 2012 at 3:57 PM ET
We trust Facebook with so very much of our personal information — birthdays, phone numbers, relationships, pictures, where we go, what we do and when. Why not just let the world's largest social network go ahead and automatically publish posts using your name, and stick those posts on your friends’ Newsfeeds?
No need to answer, on account of Facebook is already providing you with this automated convenience, ZDNet’s Ed Bott reports. Posts from pages you "like," now show up in Newsfeeds, as if you posted them yourself.
For a fake illustration, say at some point I "like" a Flock of Seagulls fan page — you know, just to be ironic and amuse my fellow Gen-Xers on Facebook (you know how we do). Then that Flock of Seagulls page posts a story about a Flock of Seagulls comeback album. That post shows up in the Newsfeeds of my Gen-X Facebook friends, with my name on the top, as if I posted it there myself. That could be really embarrassing — if I cared. (Being a Gen-Xer, I wouldn't, but you get the point.)
It's still weird, and as Bott notes, "this isn’t a bug, but a feature," part of Facebook's ongoing effort to show you the stuff your friends are interested in — or at least were interested in at some point.
Why? Here’s what a Facebook spokesperson told Bott:
To help people find new Pages, events, and other interesting information, people may now see posts from a Page a friend likes. These posts will include the social context from your friends who like the Page and will respect all existing settings.
(Msnbc.com has reached out to Facebook and will update the story if we hear back.)
Unlike the things you actively post on Facebook, and expect to show up on the pages of your Facebook friends — a hilarious e-card about Friday the 13th, or a set of anthropomorphized corgies from BuzzFeed — the items Facebook posts using your name come from things you "liked" maybe long ago, and can put you in hot water in the here and now.
"In some cases, these posts can include controversial political content that you would never voluntarily post," Bott writes. To illustrate, he shares examples that appeared in his own Newsfeed. One, an "OBAMACARE MUST GO" icon from the ForAmericaFacebook page, showed up under the name of a friend who apparently liked that page at some point. But he didn’t mean to post that "OBAMACARE MUST GO" image in the Newsfeeds of his Facebook friends.
This new feature is an extension of Facebook’s "Social Graph," which documents the interests and connections of everyone on Facebook. Such personal info is potential gold mine for advertisers looking to target their brands.
For example, if you like a specific brand or idea, your friends might like that brand or idea, too. So Facebook now reminds your friends you like this stuff with handy automated posts. Seem familiar? Perhaps you're remembering the Beacon debacle of 2007, when Facebook told your friends about what you purchased online.
If your memory doesn't go that far back, maybe you recall that lawsuit Facebook settled just last month, agreeing to pay $10 million to charity for publicizing Facebook users' "likes" on its "Sponsored Stories" advertisements — as well as their names and photos — without paying those users or allowing them to opt out.
Sure, with these new automated posts, you have to have liked that page in the first place, but it's not the just the page your friends are being told about, Chet Wisniewski, Sophos senior security advisor, told msnbc.com.
"The posts are clearly from the pages you liked, but do appear like you decided to like the story rather than the page," Wisniewski said. "Facebook users seem to think that some parts of their life on Facebook are private and that people will only see things they intentionally post. Unfortunately that is not really how Facebook works. If you don't want people to associate you with the GOP or Planned Parenthood, it might be best to not like them on a public website."
You needn't extrapolate too far to understand how such ghosts from likes past can haunt your present Facebook friendships. In April, a district court judge in Virginia ruled that clicking Facebook's like button isn't "sufficient speech to garner First Amendment protection."
The case in question came before the court when five employees of the Hampton, Va. Sheriff's Department claimed they were fired because they liked the Facebook page belonging to a candidate running against the sheriff in office at the time. The judge's ruling was later overturned, but the people who lost their jobs serve as a reminder of how even seemingly innocuous Facebook likes can make your life miserable.
As is repeatedly noted by privacy advocates, Facebook profiles are used by divorce attorneys, criminal courts, insurance companies and even the IRS for information that can be used against you. Shocked? Again?
"The subtle changes that Facebook introduces always surprise people, and this one is certainly a bit unexpected," Sophos' Wisniewski said. "The reality is that everything you post online is public and if you would rather not be associated with a company or organization don't associate with their sites on social networking sites."
As Facebook continues to make itself more attractive to potential advertisers at the expense of its users, it's time to review what you liked during your lifetime on Facebook, and whether it’s time to change your mind now.