Why I don’t like Like

Warning: This is very much a preliminary post, based on my current understanding of Facebook’s new “LIKE” buttons. But since the feature is live now, I feel like I need to warn people about the ‘potential’ issues sooner rather than later.

So without further ado.

We used to see Share on Facebook buttons on various sites. These were pretty straightforward. You’d click them and it’d stick a link on your Facebook “Wall” so your friends could see that you liked that link and potentially follow it.

Now we have the Facebook Like button. On the surface, it does the same thing. But behind the scenes it’s doing more. It sends not only the link to your wall, but certain meta data that the content producer has tagged the page with. You can, of course, view the source of the page and see what this meta data is, but many people won’t think to do that.

Let me give an example of why this could be problematic. Say you love Guild Wars, but you always play it alone or with one particular friend. You don’t think of it as an MMO, and you don’t like MMOs. In fact you hate WOW and EQ2 and LOTRO and all the other MMOs. They just aren’t your thing.

But Guild Wars you love, so you’re on a page about Guild Wars and you click the LIKE button.

But the site owner considers Guild Wars an MMO, and there’s meta data tagging this page as ‘MMO’ so when you click that LIKE button, you’re telling Facebook that you like Guild Wars and that you like MMOs. That data goes into your account.

The next week you go over to Steam to see what good deals there are. Steam queries Facebook and sees that, according to the data stored with your account, you like MMOs. So it shows you all the great sales on MMOs, and doesn’t show you the sales on single player RPGs, which is exactly what you’re in the mood to buy.

Facebook has misrepresented you. Or rather, you’ve misrepresented yourself because you don’t agree with the meta data on a site you clicked a LIKE button on.

Clearly this example is pretty trivial. But there are other situations where it could matter more. Worse, meta data could be set up to be deliberately misleading. There’s the potential for some pretty ugly shenanigans going on behind the scenes. Think of a political candidate’s page that’s been tampered with so that it has meta data saying you like the opposing party.

If this Like business takes off and lots of sites start polling your Facebook data, this could become a problem.

So I urge you, until we learn more about this system, to avoid using any “Like” buttons you encounter. Maybe Facebook has checks in place to prevent bad things from happening, but maybe not. And it still isn’t clear to me who can, and can’t, query the data associated with your account.

BTW, I put a LIKE button on Dragonchasers last night to see how it worked. I just want to be clear that I put no meta-data behind it, and I thank the folks who helped me test it.

And one last time, this is my understanding of the system as of right now. I could have some or all of this wrong. But just in case I’m right, I wanted to get people thinking about these issues.

I wrote more generally about Facebook’s new features at ITWorld this morning. You might find that post interesting as well.

6 thoughts on “Why I don’t like Like

  1. I have a facebook account with zero friends and the sole purpose to follow the Guild Wars campaign promoting the fight of the White Mantle vs the Shining Blade.

    I agree to your assessment, the more you “like” certain things facebook can create more or less correct data samples about your habits and interests and most likely use this data for whatever purpose they want, most likely personalized ad spam.

    Besides that, how many networks, social or not, does a man need. Twitter is more than enough for me, I don’t want Facebook and the dozen similar clones it already spawned all over. I wait for the day when Twitter turns evil as well. Maybe it already is, and I just did not notice yet.

  2. I liked that my son likes cheese. I look forward to many great advertisements and offers on discount cheese.

    This is going to be fun.

  3. Reminds me of the suggestion feature of TIVO. The first thing I always turned off when I used TIVO DVR’s.

  4. I guess I’m kind of naive, but I’ve never cared about metadata being sent out. My boss tells me I’m not nearly Libertarian enough. 😉 But I can’t help but not feel paranoid about non-specific information being sent out. It just doesn’t bother me if a website collects data.

    Would I prefer if they just ask? Well, yes. But in lieu of that, meh. And if me clicking Like a few times around the web will get me an interesting discount I might not have otherwise known about, I think it’s worth it. I try to look on the positive side of things, I guess. Well, not really, but I am on this one!

  5. And some people feel absolutely at ease being tracked by security cameras where ever they go.

    If you have no concerns about online privacy, that’s your prerogative of course. I’m not saying everyone should be up in arms about this. I’m saying everyone should be aware of it and learn exactly what’s going on before using these buttons. But I’ve now learned it goes deeper than that.

    Since I wrote the post I learned that if you’re logged into Facebook (more specifically, if you’ve got an active Facebook cookie in your browser) and you go to a site that has a Like button, whether you click the button or not, the Like button beams back to Facebook’s database that you visited the site in question.

    So if you click a shortened link in a tweet and it happens to go to a hentai site (with a Like button on it), no matter horrified you are by what you see there, Facebook now will always remember, and potentially share with advertisers, that you have an interest in hentai. You specifically, with as much data as you’ve give Facebook about your name, where you live, where you went to school, where you work, etc.

    Most privacy conscious people haven’t given Facebook much data, so this isn’t that big a deal for them. But for the people who don’t think much about what they tell Facebook it could potentially cause problems.

    Easiest solution is just to log out of Facebook when you’re done using it. That’ll destroy your cookies and make Facebook unable to track your travels on the web.

    And the flip side of all this is, Facebook is going to own all this data. So looking at the positive side of this tracking (better recommendations and things of that nature), all services will have to go to Facebook (if they have their way) which gives them an awful lot of power.

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