Oct. 4, 2012 at 3:39 PM ET
Links and "Likes" on Facebook are its currency in terms of attracting and keeping advertisers. But what about private messages, those sent between two Facebook users, and not posted publicly on the site? A new report suggests Facebook is tracking links sent in private messages, as well as counting some of those privately shared links as "Likes."
"A recent online video shows that the social networking site scans the links you’re sending — registering them as though you 'Like' the page you sent. It’s just one example of how online messages that seem private are often actually examined by computers for data," said the Wall Street Journal Thursday.
Facebook does scan private messages for links, but not to use them as "Likes" or for your personal information, the social network says.
"Our systems parse the URL being shared in order to render the appropriate preview, and to also ensure that the message is not spam," Facebook said in a statement to NBC News. "URLs shared through private messages are not attributed publicly with user profiles."
Facebook also said that 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."
The video the Journal referred to had been posted on Hacker News, and "showed a person who sent links in Facebook messages in order to inflate the number of "Likes" a page had received. Each time the link was sent, the page’s "Like" count went up by two, something that the Hacker News poster said allows people to "pump up to 1,800 ‘Likes’ in an hour.' "
The clip, also posted on YouTube, has "since been taken down for violating YouTube’s restrictions on the depiction of 'harmful activities,' but the behavior was also confirmed and recorded by Digits," The Journal said. (That video is below.)
"In addition to raising privacy questions," the Journal said, "the video points to potential problems with 'Like fraud.' "
Not so, says Facebook.
"Facebook is not automatically Liking any Facebook Pages on a user's behalf," the social network told NBC News.
"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."