It started like any other day, I read some news, I copied the link to an article I thought was worth sharing (Paul the oracle octopus winning the 2010 FIFA World Cup is fascinating), and I pasted the link into my facebook status. Then I went back to the domain from which I copied the link and saw it…the plugin. There it was my facebook picture, my full name, my action (shared) and the name of the link.
This year facebook rolled out some integrated Facebook plugins to be spread accross 100,000+ websites. Washingtonpost.com is just one of those sites that implemented this. When people visit their site and are simultaneously logged into facebook, and have indicated that their profile is public in their facebook settings; they see what any of their friends have liked or shared on this site (only friends can see info about friends according to the site), including your own actions (what happened to me). There is no actual transfer of information that takes place (facebook keeps all the data), its just that washingtonpost.com displays a version of your newsfeed using an algorithm that filters out non washingtonpost.com related actions and sorts them by most popular and most liked using the information from Facebook. Some other big sites doing this include abcnews.com and pandora.com.
The benefit for both sites? Facebook gets an additional couple billion impressions a day thanks to this plugin, and the news site gets more articles read following the research that has shown that people share, read and engage more with content when it is presented through friends and trusted faces.
I feel like there are a lot of privacy implications with this module, and people have lashed out against it, calling for an opt out feature among other things. It is unlikely for someone not to be logged into facebook while perusing the net, and it is unlikely for someone to make their profile private and forgo being searched for online by someone they may wish to network with. I am not entirely sure how washingtonpost.com measures who clicked on an article because a friend’s “like” showed up in the plugin.
What is interesting to me is the branding aspect of it. Often times I “friend” my favorite brands, I may “Like” them on facebook and that allows my brand and me, the consumer, to share content, they appear on my newsfeed and they in turn get access to my profile. So consequently, when they login to these “plugin partner” sites, they should be able to see my personal information relating to articles I have shared, or liked. This in turn, gives them more information about their consumer. So in the end, its not just about facebook impressions, news site articles and consumer privacy, but is also about advertising, and a free form of it. Companies can piggy back on this initiative, especially companies that that have a strong focus on their branding – it is free research on their direct consumer, research that can be collected and used at a glance.
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