Referrals on your site from Facebook? Good luck getting any sort of idea who sent you there. Unless it’s from a public page, all you’re bound to see is one simple referring URL: http://www.facebook.com/l.php. Facebook ‘wraps’ all links on Facebook within this simple file — once you click on a link in Facebook, l.php will ‘redirect’ you to the actual URL. Why Facebook does this is unclear. Possibly to protect user’s anonymity when accessing links — or is it something more strategic?
Given Facebook’s perennial privacy issues, seemingly providing its users such anonymity when accessing links seems out of character. Twitter links can be tricky to track, but since most accounts are public it’s fairly easy to track what users have linked to you by using services such as the bit.ly info page or topsy.com (but not Twitter’s search, because it’s utterly rubbish).
Are Facebook genuinely protecting users from being seen in referrals, or are they just harvesting all this data for themselves? Are they planning to keep it secret and build up better ‘user profiles’ (probably, which is quite scary) or will they launch some sort of premium API service where websites can see what Facebook users are accessing their site? (even scarier, although the privacy implications of this are massive).
But perhaps Facebook do have a strange sense of privacy for their users. There’s no way to know how many people have viewed your profile on Facebook (although countless malware applications claim to do so, and such a feature is no doubt a reason they propagate so successfully). This is probably for the best, as if they enabled something like that there’s a good chance many relationships would get quite awkward. Suddently realising some person you met at a party three years ago constantly looks at your profile would no doubt be very unnerving — nevermind if it was someone such as a close friend’s partner.
Scarily, only a few weeks back I discovered LinkedIn does exactly this: you can opt-in to see who can see your profile, and people you view can also see that you’ve looked. I find this quite creepy — would Facebook ever do this? I doubt, and really hope that they don’t.