Facebook denies private message security breach

Facebook has vehemently denied users’ complaints that their private messages were made public to friends and acquaintances, claiming instead that the messages in question have been public all along.

"[The] messages were older wall posts that had always been visible on the users' profile pages,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

"Facebook is satisfied that there has been no breach of user privacy,” the company added.

The alleged privacy breach was first reported by French journalists, with others from across the web chiming in with concerns of their own soon afterwards. According to the complaints, private messages sent between 2007 and 2009 became visible on users’ timelines as Facebook implemented its global, mandatory global rollout of the Timeline layout.

The glitch appears to have been most concentrated on the accounts of users in France, the latest country to undergo the forced transition to Timeline, though users from around the world report having seen what they describe as private messages published to their public timelines.

But Facebook maintains that those were not private messages and that users may simply have forgotten how they communicated on the social network in the past.

“A small number of users raised concerns after what they believed to be private messages appeared on their timeline. Our engineers investigated these reports and found that the messages were older wall posts that had always been visible on the users' profile pages,” the company said.

"Every report we’ve seen, we’ve gone back and checked. We haven’t seen one report that’s been confirmed [of a private message being exposed]. A lot of the confusion is because before 2009 there were no likes and no comments on wall posts. People went back and forth with wall posts instead of having a conversation [in the comments of a wall post],” a spokesperson explained to TechCrunch.

Despite Facebook’s insistence that it did not violate users’ privacy by publishing private messages, the company has not explained how the content, previously hidden on the Timeline layout, suddenly became visible. Ultimately, however, the situation does not bode well for Facebook, whose poor privacy track record has drawn the ire of the public and the authorities alike.

Meanwhile, Facebook stocks, which have already lost much of their value since the company’s initial public offering in May, have plunged yet again, dropping more than 11 per cent in a day.