If you’ve surfed sites like Mashable, Wetpaint and The Mirror in the past week, you may have noticed a little plug-in widget on the bottom right hand corner of the screen (see the screenshot at left). This little handy box is called the “Recommendations Bar,” and it is the latest way that Facebook plans to make content more social. But it also might be just another invasion of user privacy.
In a recent post on Facebook’s Developer Blog, Jeffrey Spehar, a Software Engineer at the social media site, introduced the Recommendations Bar to the masses. He writes that the tool is “a new social plug-in that helps people find articles based on what their friends like and share from your site. As a person reads an article, a small pop-up surfaces at the bottom of the screen highlighting recommended articles and prompting them to like the page. Recommendations are based on content that friends have explicitly liked and shared in your app or website.”
According to Facebook, the tool is great for website traffic, as in the early testing phases stories featured in the Recommendations Bar as getting three times as many clicks. However, at what price to user privacy?
The window appears, similar to Facebook’s Chat functionality, as a pop-up that can be minimized. Emil Protalinski, of CNET, writes, “As you’re trying to concentrate on reading an article, you will be annoyingly disturbed with a pop-up that highlights recommended articles you should read, and also prompted to Like the Web page. Facebook says recommendations are based on content your Facebook friends have ‘explicitly’ Liked and Shared on the same Web site, or in the Web site’s app…When you Like an article using the Recommendations Bar, a story is published on your Timeline and on your Facebook friends’ News Feed. In other words, this is just a more invasive version of the Like button and Recommendations Box.”
Fast Company’s Sarah Kessler notes that this tool is Facebook’s way of taking the data it has on its user and making it public. She explains, “Facebook already knows which articles your friends are liking and sharing, and they are finally ready to share that information with you–and publishers.”
So it is obvious that publisher’s will benefit from this feature: they will get more clickthroughs and will know more about what their readers are consuming and sharing socially. But, as PC World’s Ed Oswald asks, what is the benefit for the user? He writes, “There isn’t really one–it’s just another reason to be worried about your privacy on the social networking site…Don’t get me wrong–relevant recommendations from friends might be helpful. There’s a good chance that the recommended content will be something that we’ll be interested in reading, since we often pick our friends based on shared interests.”
So what do you think of the Recommendations Bar?