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Facebook “Like” Button Raises Privacy Concerns

The controversy over the new “Like” content-sharing button on Facebook has been gaining attention over the past couple of days. On Sunday, Financial Times reported [1] that Facebook’s latest innovation will allow websites to embed a button similar to the one currently found on Facebook, essentially allowing users to signal content they like on internet sites. The author also suggested that Facebook will be using information gained from this new feature to deliver “highly targeted ads” once the user returns to their Facebook page. If this feature—which will essentially track users as they surf through the web for advertising purposes—is executed, Facebook should prepare to face criticism over potential privacy issues.

It seems that  Financial Times may have jumped the gun with this claim, however, as they have since corrected certain parts of the story. As the updated article [2] points out, “Facebook spokesperson denied that the new tool would allow the company to track users.” Barry Schnitt, Director of Policy Communications at Facebook, clarified [3] in a blog comment, stating: “the Financial Times incorrectly suggested that Facebook is launching a behavioral ad targeting at f8, our upcoming developer conference… As we have said previously, we are moving from ‘Become a Fan’ to ‘Like’ to make the language on the site more consistent but we have no announcements or changes planned to our ad offering or ad policies.” The bottom line: there is no behavioral ad network being launched at this time.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that features such as “Like” and “Become a Fan” require user action. Theoretically speaking, even if Facebook ultimately does launch a behavioral ad network, users can always choose not click on the button and conceal their preferences.  It may be interesting to think about the extent to which a typical Facebook user care about how much information is collected about them and their view on targeted advertisements on the site visited by 200 million people each day.

More to come on this topic at F8 [4], Facebook’s developer conference, which kicks off tomorrow in San Francisco.

About Grace Kobayashi

Grace Kobayashi is a graduate student at the University of Southern California in the Master’s in Human Behavior program She was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, and after graduating from high school, moved to Tokyo to do her undergraduate studies at Waseda University. She is working as an intern for the Client Services team at The Search Agency.