On Jan. 30, Facebook proudly announced on its blog that it is teaming up with a “social TV analytics specialist” called SecondSync in order to “help clients understand how people are using Facebook to talk about topics such as TV,” according to the blog post.
We don't know who these clients are or what specific understanding they lack, and we especially don't know why SecondSync thinks this partnership with Facebook is a good idea.
After all: Facebook is already facing multiple class action lawsuits charging that it has not only been reading the contents of allegedly “private” messages sent on its site, but also using links to massage “like” counts.
In other words, if you and your friend both think Congressman Dungheap is an idiot, and occasionally private-message each other with a link to his Facebook page alongside commentary like “Wow, the congressman is being extra-stupid today, even for him” – that bit of political analysis there actually increases the congressman's “like” count on Facebook, if the lawsuit allegations are correct.
(And they very well might be; as early as October 2012, The Next Web tech blog reported “Facebook confirms it is scanning your private messages for links to increase Like counters.”)
Inflated feelgood data
Granted, if Congressman Dungheap is 14 years old and really, really wants his Facebook page to have more Likes than the Facebook pages of his classmates down at the middle school, then having Facebook portray him as more popular than he is probably counts as a good thing, from Dungheap's perspective.
But if Dungheap is, hypothetically, a grownup politician trying to figure out what the voters actually think about him, so as to determine what campaign strategies might best increase his chance of re-election – in that case, we can't help wondering if maybe falsely inflated feelgood data is worse than no data at all.
Does Facebook do the same with TV shows? If you and five of your Facebook friends all agree “I hate this stupid TV show, which insults both my intelligence and my basic baseline humanity,” will Facebook conclude “Whoa, there's six people who really hate that stupid TV show,” or will the stupid TV show's Facebook page get six more Likes added to its counter?
Since SecondSync is supposed to help Facebook analyze whatever TV data it gleans from its users, we'll guess/hope the answer to both questions is “No.”