I predict a wave of Relationship Status changes across the Facebook world in the next few hours, days and possibly weeks as boyfriends, girlfriends and partners start to snoop across multiple messages that were meant to be private, plastered over their walls and the walls of their friends and co-workers; To top it off you may also have their messages to you advertised for all to see on your wall. Friendships and relationships may be put to the test as things directed and said at different times at different stages of emotional and/or mental development come out without so much as a warning.
Not only is this possibly the biggest privacy breach in all of human history (am I exaggerating here?) but it may also finally force us to accept that whatever you put online will never be truly private and will one day come out, whether by accidental or malicious means.
Now, what has actually happened? According to a lot of scared and rightly so, angry users online; once private messages they received from Facebook users have been exposed in the time they were sent on their public timeline without their knowledge or consent. I personally was dumb struck when I was told and thought out-loud “That’s weird, I’m sure I am in the clear.” Today at work however, one of my co-workers started revealing how she found her friends messages to her were all over her wall and how she spent hours combing and filtering them out… This piqued my curiosity.
I began to sift through my timeline and landed upon the dates 2010 and older. Here I could see there were a bunch of messages from my friends collated together nicely, they resembled wall posts. But there was something wrong with the content of the messages my friends were supposedly putting on my wall. They didn’t look like they were meant for public eyes and there was no way in the world I would have left some of them reach my timeline, especially things that were controversial at the time. Suddenly, I went into panic mode and started looking for ways to strip them from my timeline but not before I confirmed they were truly private.
Here’s how I did it. I found a message I knew I wouldn’t have allowed on my wall and I searched for the author of that message in my private messaging. What was weird was when I found the private messages in question, it seemed I was having a one way conversation inside the private messaging component, on my wall it seemed the other way around; They were having a one way message with me. It was like wires were crossed and everything they said to me was public whilst mine was private (but actually *very* visible on their page). Once I grabbed the evidence of this occurring twice, I began damage control over things I could actually control.
Evidence of Breach
First Attempt (Didn’t work!)
Deleting the content from Private Messages didn’t actually work, Facebook instead puts it in Archive and strangely enough the responses were still visible. This may be because once it happened and was placed on the wall, it wasn’t essentially part of the private messaging section anymore. It was its own wall post.
Second Attempt(Works for now!)
Deleting each message one by one all the way back to 2007 wasn’t feasible. One of my colleagues who was also affected discovered that he could hide the entire neat package year by year by clicking on the edit/delete icon and selecting “Hide from timeline”. This didn’t delete it, but at least once again (until the next breach) made it private. I did this immediately on all my posts dating back from 2012 to 2007, just to make sure.
Now this still doesn’t fix the fact YOUR messages from possible 2010 and older are not visible. In fact, I was certain my 2011 and possibly 2012 posts were visible on someone’s page. However, I could only confirm 2010 and older. Facebook has a lot to answer for but hopefully this work-around to help cover your friend’s tracks and keep your conversations partially hidden (until your mates do it too). There are things we talk and say when we believe no one else will see them, and I think we wish to keep those conversations with between their intended recipients and you; things can be misinterpreted or taken out of context, especially if you only have one side of the story… which, thanks to Facebook, happens to be all you see – both a blessing and a curse.
Facebook denies responsibility, claims it was always visible
Once this was complete. I sat back and let my head work, how did this happen? Surely Facebook would have made an announcement or statement about it… Turns out they did. Facebook was denying that the messages were leaked and that it was “found that the messages were older wall posts that had always been visible on the users’ profile pages”. This is troubling indeed, the company essentially denied all responsibility and from what it sounds like to me, that we were just not privacy minded individuals back then or not really paying attention, I’ll be completely honest – I had the split second reaction where I actually thought it was my fault, and this is why I took screenshots to prove it wasn’t.
What we can all learn from this…
Now the above leak of messages (that I’m willing to show) between my two friends and I were really timid and not damaging in any way but it could have been much worse. I could have complained to a friend about an ex-girlfriend, I could have sent my aunt my bank details to make a deposit or even talked about personal issues that may still affect me, there were messages on my wall that had those tones – scary stuff. The possible repercussions are unfathomable at this stage and really, we have ourselves to blame.
You may also be affected.
Hopefully we can spread the message on the temporary fix on the issue and help educate others about how something said in private, just like in real world; may find its way out. I’m not sure how Facebook is going to spin its way out of this one but I’m eagerly awaiting to see what they blame this time.