Facebook Denies Privacy Bug, French Government Demands Explanation

As users see old private messages surfacing on their timeline. Facebook denies any privacy breach – but has been called to explain itself to the Government in France, where the panic was first reported.

Two French government ministers have called Facebook to  explain itself to France’s privacy body, CNIL, today following reports in the Metro newspaper that users were seeing private messages from before 2009, published in their public Timeline. Facebook has denied there is any problem, saying that users are seeing instances where they used friends’ Facebook “wall” to publish messages that might better have been sent as private messages.

Facebook to face French probe

France’s Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg and the Small Businesses Minister Fleur Pellerin have called for “clear and transparent explanations” and summoned Facebook executives to the CNIL today.

However, Facebook issued a flat denial that there was anything more happening than users seeing the result of carelessness, and a confusion over the change form Facebook’s old Wall to the Timeline.

“A small number of users raised concerns after what they mistakenly believed to be private messages appeared on their Timeline,” said a Facebook statement. “Our engineers investigated these reports and found that the messages were older wall posts that had always been visible on the users’ profile pages. Facebook is satisfied that there has been no breach of user privacy.”

According to Facebook’s denial, these older messages show up on the Timeline as messages “posted by friends” but were originally on their Wall in the old-style Facebook.

““Every report we’ve seen, we’ve gone back and checked,” said a statement published by TechCrunch. “We haven’t seen one report that’s been confirmed.” Part of the confusion, says Facebook stems from the fact that the old Facebook style did not allow comments on Wall posts, so users went “back and forth” with fresh wall posts, instead of having a conversation in the comments, as people do now.

TechWeekEurope staff have not been able to find any examples of private messages that were posted onto our walls, but have found plenty of old Wall messages that would have better posted as private messages.

The consensus advice from experts is to consider hiding your older posts from your timeline. This can be done by clicking on the relevant year in your Timeline, and then Editing the “Friends” box within the timeline for that year.

Facebook has been repeatedly criticised for its attitude to privacy, and recently lost a $9.5 million law suit for sharing users’ activity through a service called Beacon, without permission.

FAcebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has said that expectations of privacy have changed, and Facebook changes – such as the initially unpopular Timeline redesign – have been designed to encourage more sharing producing content that the site can sell adverts against.

What do you know about Facebook? Find out with our quiz!

Peter Judge

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

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