Global Security

While testing a new feature, Facebook made private data of 14 million users accessible to public

Facebook Privacy made public

How did this happen?

Facebook was just recovering from the recent Cambridge Analytica fiasco and already got themselves in another soup. This time they themselves were responsible for the debacle caused. The developers were attempting to test a feature on users’ profiles and unknowingly introduced a bug that made some private posts go public which were meant to be posted privately by users. This bug exposed private data of up to 14 Million users. Facebooks Chief Privacy Officer –  Erin Egan, issued a public apology.

We’d like to apologize for this mistake, we recently found a bug that automatically suggested posting publicly when some users were writing their Facebook posts. We have fixed this issue and starting today we are letting everyone affected know and asking them to review any posts they made during that time. To be clear, this bug did not impact anything that users had posted before – and they could still choose their audience just as they always have.”

This bug occurred as we were building a new way to share featured items on your profile, like a photo. Since these featured items are public, the suggested audience for all new posts – not just these items – was set to public. The problem has been fixed, and for anyone affected, we changed the audience back to what they had been using before.”

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The bug was introduced on the 18th of May. It took four days for Facebook to identify the bug and fix it. On May 22nd, a fix was issued by Facebook which changed all these posts back to private, even if the post was intended to be public. Then on May 27, another update was issued by Facebook claiming that the bug has been fixed permanently. This is just another one of those ‘privacy’ issue Facebook has had to deal with this year. What’s surprising, is that after the Cambridge Analytica debacle, the Facebook stock did fall, but managed to hit an all-time high just recently.

What was that ‘new feature’?

Facebook told Tech Crunch that all this happened when they were trying to implement a new “Featured Items” option on user profiles. This feature will allow users to select featured posts and images, which will be highlighted in their profile as someone views it. Generally, in a new account, all the posts are visible to the public but a user can easily modify their profile and post’s audience. This can be set to just friends, Friends of Friends, exclude certain people or just limited to some. Facebook remembers your preference of the last post you made. For example, if you set its privacy settings as can be viewed by the public, the next time the same settings will be set as default unless you change it to something else. Now, for someone who’s last post was private, the next post should ideally also be private but due to the recently introduced bug, all these post settings were set to public.

About Time to Check Your Privacy Settings

Moving forward, all the affected users will see prompts encouraging them to review their posts linked to their activity between this duration. If you get a notification saying “Due to a technical error we recommend you review the audience of your recent posts. Learn more”, chances are you were probably among those 14 million users and you must change your privacy settings. This incident acts as an alarm even for those who were not affected, so go on, check who can view your posts. In order to view this on a personal computer select the first option under your settings. The option says “Who can see your future posts?”. Select the audience you want your posts and profile to be visible to. It is also a good time to go through your other privacy settings like how people can find, contact you etc.

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