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The thumbs-up sign on Facebook’s ‘Like’ button has become one of the most recognisable symbols on the Internet, allowing users to show their approval of subjects ranging from their best friend’s engagement notice to a stranger’s pet photographs. Now the social network is launching a ‘Want’ button, enabling users to create wishlists that inform the world which items they desire most. The move is seen as Facebook’s attempt to lay the groundwork for a push into online shopping, allowing its one billion users to browse and buy goods through the site. Critics worry that the Want feature will rekindle the privacy concerns that many people have with Facebook’s Like button, which has helped the social network to collect a treasure trove of personal information. Facebook said that it was working with seven retailers, including the lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret and the American home furnishings store Pottery Barn, that will allow users to flag images of desired products by clicking on the Want button.

Facebook said: “People will be able to engage with these collections and share things they are interested in with their friends. People can click through and buy these items off Facebook.” Once a person clicks on the Want button, the shopping item and wishlist appears on their “Timeline” — a stream of personal information that can be seen by Facebook friends. Analysts say that the system, which Facebook calls Collections, will help the social network to break into the online shopping market by encouraging users to buy products for their friends or by sending shoppers straight to online stores. Facebook said that it would not receive a fee when an item is purchased from a wishlist item on a retailer’s site, but did not rule out doing so in future.

Analysts say that Facebook is under pressure to create new ways of making money after its disastrous flotation in May, after which billions of dollars were wiped from the company’s value. “E-commerce is one of the best ways to monetise the Internet,” Colin Sebastian, of Robert W. Baird, said.

The creation of the new button is part of Facebook’s development of a concept that it calls the “open graph”, which analyses the connections between people and objects. Initially, Facebook tried to express these connections with the Like button, which users clicked if they enjoyed what they were reading, hearing or seeing on the web and wanted to share with friends. The new Want button could create reams of new information on the habits and desires of Facebook users, which privacy campaigners say the company should not collect. The social network insists that it never shares or sells personal data and that the Want button will be subject to the same strict privacy controls that are available on the site at present.

The Times News Service, London