Facebook has another privacy screw-up on its hands. A bug in May coincidentally altered the recommended privacy setting for status updates to public from whatever users had planned to last, strongly creating them to post sensitive friends-only content to the entire world. Facebook is now informing 14 million people throughout the world who were strongly impacted by the bug to review their status updates and lock them down tighter if need be.
Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan mentioned to TechCrunch in a statement:
“We recently found a bug that automatically suggested posting publicly when some people were creating 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 people had posted before – and they could still choose their audience just as they always have. We’d like to apologize for this mistake.”
[Clarification: No existing status updates had their privacy setting altered. The composer’s setting was altered, so any posts published by affected users during the bug might have been shared publicly when users inferred their composer was still set to something more private.]
The bug was active from May 18th to May 22nd, but it took Facebook til May 27th to shift people’s status composer privacy setting reverse to what it was prior to the problem. It happened because Facebook was developing a “featured items” option on your profile that spotlights photos and other content. These featured objects are publicly visible, but Facebook inadvertently expanded that setting to all new posts from those users.
The problem has now been solved, and everyone’s status composer has been altered back to default to the privacy setting they had before the bug. The notifications about the bug directs to a page of info about the issue, with a link to review affected posts.
Facebook says TechCrunch that it hears loud and clear that it must be more clear regarding its product and privacy settings, specially when it messes up. And it plans to show more of these types of alerts to be forthcoming about any other privacy issues it discovers in the future.
Facebook depends on trust in its privacy features to keep people sharing. If users are concerned their personal photos, sensitive status updates, or other content could leak out to the public and embarrass them or damage their reputation, they will remain silent.
With all the other problems circulating after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, this bug displays that Facebook’s privacy problems span both poorly thought-out policies and technical oversights. It proceeded too rapidly, and it broke something.
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