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SA company calls Facebook out on private messages scandal

Despite Facebook’s assurances that private messages sent between you and your friends were not posted on peoples walls, some users still insist that they are seeing private messages on their timelines.

The furore started late last month when some Facebook users reported that they were seeing private messages on their timelines from between 2007 and 2009.

Facebook sought to quell these claims by suggesting that its users had misunderstood what had happened and that had been “no breach of user privacy”:

“A small number of users raised concerns after what they mistakenly believed to be private messages appeared on their Timeline,” the company said in an email 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.”

South African-based SEO agency Synergize however today claims to have done a case study of 35 Facebook users, who were active between 2007-2009. Around 24 of them, it says, had inbox messages on their timeline.

In the wake of this research, the agency claims that a number of the people involved deactivated their Facebook accounts.

“Because this is shared between two people, there is a good chance that this information is live on others’ walls,” says Synergize CEO Shaune Jordaan. If these really are inbox messages, “Facebook would be facing a massive problem,” he says.

He points out that it would be in breach of a statement in Facebook’s own guidelines: “You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings.”

Jordaan reckons that the social networking giant owes its users an apology, especially given the implications of allowing people to view private messages in public:

While I can’t imagine that Facebook would expect people to ensure they “switched on” this security setting, I would still think that Facebook would step up to the plate and admit, “hey, we stuffed up.” Till this second, there has been no formal apology for the blatant and unethical breach of privacy from the social networking site.

While some people just have the odd private message between friends displayed, this “revealing to the world”, exposes private details such as bank details, salary information and perhaps even murder plots. I would be interested to see how many people deregistered from Facebook or plan to – while glitches happen, it’s not OK if that glitch reveals your privacy on a site that relies on your trust to aid in their success.

“There’s still time to fix it, he says, “Mark Zuckerberg needs to come out publicly about this. We (well most of us) all trust Facebook because we love it. However, this error is a serious concern”.

Memeburn staffers report that their inbox messages have also been appearing on their timelines. Messages that were in their inboxes appeared to have been duplicated, at least in part, on their timelines.

Author | Nur Bremmen: Staff reporter

Nur Bremmen: Staff reporter
Nur is an enigma with a passion for creating words. He recently entered a love affair with technology and chorizo sausages. He travels a lot -- you catch him, if you can, at a Silicon Cape event every now and again. More
  • shocking, but are there screen grabs that show these wall posts?

  • Fearmongering me thinks. I had a look through my timeline all the way back to 2007 and those were only genuine wall posts from friends – thus visible to my friends as well. If you’re paranoid something may have appeared you can do a global hide of all those posts per year as per my screenshot:

  • Ex Facebook user

    I think Some comments here are posted by Facebook employees. Because the private messages were on my timeline and in fact very personal. Not fear mongering but true. Facebooks cover up is amazing even calling its users stupid.

  • Carl

    Doing a remove in your timeline does not remove the conversation from other peoples timelines. I’ve deleted my account and still my private messages are shown on people’s timelines. Thanks for your help but unfortunately no match for facebooks breach of trust

  • FYI, I’m definitely not a Facebook employee. I’m also NOT condoning the mistake (?) by Facebook but If you’re so concerned over very personal messages, perhaps you shouldn’t be using a third-party social networking platform to send such messages. Just saying.

  • From day one Facebook’s privacy guidelines and (mal)practices have been suspicious. If people still insist on using it to send sensitive/confidential/private messages, well it’s a risk you’ve undertaken. After all you’re responsible for what medium you choose for sending your messages. Again, not a Facebook employee and definitely not condoning what they have done. Just saying.

  • skeptic101

    this is clearly just a misunderstanding. if it were true someone would have been able to provide proof by now, not just people relying on what was a WP and what was a PM 5 years ago. http://thatsnonsense.com/blog/can-users-see-old-private-messages-on-their-timelines/

  • Vocal

    I’ve always been vocal about the downside of many aspects of Facebook, but I think this is mess is just user error. A bit of an outrageous claim from this company Synergize that somehow they have detected that the users’ private posts did get shown. Um, how did they get that info? Hack into Facebook? No, they wouldn’t know more than any of the users.

  • Innocent bystander.

    This definitely happened to me and while it was only one message that was leaked, it was incredibly unfortunate that it was a very personal message. I don’t think its fair of the people who weren’t affected by it to berate the people who were affected. Also sending a message over Facebook and using it as a mailbox should be considered the same as say using Gmail, especially now that they have started promoting the option of providing you with a Facebook linked mailbox. As the article above says, “it’s not OK if that glitch reveals your privacy on a site that relies on your trust to aid in their success.”

  • Dan
  • My only disappointment with this whole scenario is that my life wasn’t exciting enough to have anything significant to hide in those years. I was almost excited to delete controversial messages off my wall but alas, my youth was wasted on innocence

  • thefact

    I just check this, there are *definately* private messgaes on time my timeline, which all seems to be from 2007. Cant find anything after that. You can see a conversation that i would never have had on a public wall!

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