Why are there zero-width spaces in Facebook URLs?
Over on Facebook, +Steven Pemberton
observes that Facebook are adding zero-width spaces into URLs mentioned in posts, so you can't cut and paste them into web browsers, but must click through the Facebook redirector instead. This is performed on the text of a URL string, not the hyperlink, which links as expected to the redirector.
(Zero-width spaces are special characters that don't take up any space or display on the screen, but they form part of the sentences they're in so you'll pick them up if you copy a sentence to the clipboard.)
Because I can't link to his post so that you can see it, here's a relevant quote about his experience:
"I just tried it in three browsers. It looks like Chrome elides the extra characters, but Firefox and Opera both kept them in, thus giving a 404. This is what it looked like in Firefox: http://www.guardian.co.uk/educ%E2%80%8Bation/2011/oct/24/university-a%E2%80%8Bpplicants-drop-tuition-fees
Whatever you think about redirectors, this particular practice is plainly deceptive. It's as bad and naive as redacting PDFs by overlaying black rectangles. I'm sorry to say this, but Facebook do not seem like a company that respect their users. I don't believe that the trade-off here in favor of data collection--in what's pretty much a corner case--is worth the aggressive message it sends to savvy users.Update
-- I amended the title to be less inflammatory, as I allow for the possibility this is a naive engineering choice with unfortunate consequences.