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Facebook likely profited from bug at users' expense

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Last week, Facebook reported a bug in its analytics tools for pages which had been misreporting their reach for months.

Now we know just how much, thanks to a report by startup analytics firm Edgerank Checker: If you ran a Facebook page from November to February, when the bug was active, your "reach"—the number of followers who saw your posts—looked down about 14 percent. It wasn't.

"Pages" are Facebook's brand and celebrity launching pads on the social network, and the accuracy of Facebook's analytics numbers are extremely important. That's because the company forces page managers to pay to reach all their users—anywhere from $5 to a few hundred dollars. Naturally, if page owners thought their reach was down by a whopping 14 percent, they would have been a lot more likely to cough up cash to Facebook.

In other words, Facebook's accident was probably quite profitable for Facebook, but costly for page owners.

Edgerank Checker studied 1,000 pages before and after the bug fix. Larger pages were hit with the biggest engagement plummets. TechCrunch's Josh Constine took a deeper look at the numbers:

 "A Page with 750,000 fans would have been reaching 47,000 fans per post (6.24 percent), according to the broken analytics, when in reality they were reaching 78,000 (10.35 percent). That means Insights was underreporting reach by a massive 66 percent."

Smaller pages were a little better off. Facebook was underreporting their engagement by about 10 percent. Median reach was off by about 14.29 percent. Facebook isn't disputing Edgerank Checker's findings. Will it refund page owners who paid for promoted posts during this period?

We reached out to Facebook for comment, but didn't hear back in time for publication.

Photo by ThreeHeadedMonkey/Flickr