Like It or Not: Facebook’s “Like” Button Causes Users to Question Online Privacy

By Lauren Haberkorn

A few months back, Facebook introduced the new “Like” button. Since the launch of that seemingly simple and fun addition to Facebook, users have been “liking” their favorite things and presumably enjoying this fun new button!

It turns out, however, that websites and corporations may actually be the ones liking the “Like” button most of all. Since its launch, nearly two million websites have added the small icon with a picture of a “thumbs up” to their webpages. Not only can you “like” a friend’s status update, photo albums and wall posts; you can also “like” that Christmas dress from your favorite store, a particular article from the New York Times, or the new gadget that you want for Christmas. The “Like” button is now popping up all over retail websites, company homepages, and gossip blogs. With just one click, you can simply say you “like” whatever it is you’re viewing.

It seems so simple. But what happens next? Of course we know our profile and news feed reflect our newly found “like,” but does the owner of the webpage that we “liked” gain access to our personal information and information about our friends? The answer does not seem so clear…

Facebook users everywhere would likely balk at another perceived violation of privacy from the popular social media site. Unfortunately, marketing representatives and company owners relish in the idea of putting a finer point on their consumers. Suddenly, marketers have insight into the demographic appreciating its product—information like where you live, your favorite stores, your favorite music and your friends hobbies. Companies no longer have to bribe for customers to fill out surveys or reviews.

Marketing and advertising just got a lot easier with a wealth of information about the consumers of their products.

Whether or not this benefit is worth the risk of privacy is a question some users have apparently begun to ask. The Facebook “Help Center,” available to every user, has a collection of frequently asked questions.  The question “What personal information is shared with sites that use social plugins” was asked and published, as well as the answer which states “None of your information—your name or profile information, what you like, who your friends are, what they have liked, what they recommend—is shared with external sites you visit with a plugin… personal information about your actions is provided to advertisers.”

Interestingly enough, though, a section website with information for companies implanting the new social plug provides a different answer. Not only does this website give the required code to embed the plug in, it has its own Q and A section. The following question, “What analytics are available about the Like button?” is answered as so, “If you visit and register your domain, you can see the number of likes on your domain each day and the demographics of who is clicking the Like button.”

If none of a user’s information is shared, how exactly does the company receive demographics of who is clicking the “Like” button? It will be interesting to watch in the coming months whether the “Like” button becomes another item in the growing list of privacy concerns by Facebook users, and whether consumers ultimately “like” the idea of unwittingly sharing their personal information with marketers.

Lauren Haberkorn is a Corporate Communication major in the Diederich College of Communication.

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The opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of Marquette University or the Diederich College of Communication.

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