Private Facebook Messages Appear in Public: Report

Dennis Faas's picture

Facebook has flatly denied that private messages sent between 'Friends' on that social network have appeared on users' public profile pages.

Despite widespread reports of this problem in France, Facebook says the claims are a technical impossibility and may be the result of confusion.

The claims were first reported by the French newspaper Metro, which wrote that "private messages dating from 2007, 2008 and 2009 now appear directly in user's timelines." However, Metro noted the "problem is not systematic." (Source:

Cheaters Exposed by Facebook Problem

Following the reports, numerous people in France said they had experienced the same problem. Some Facebook users complained that particularly embarrassing comments, some revealing past infidelities, had appeared on their profile pages.

The French government demanded to know more about what was happening. Two ministers issued a joint statement saying, in part: "Clear and transparent explanations must be given without delay."

Facebook: "No Breach of User Privacy"

Facebook has publicly responded by saying that it "is satisfied that there has been no breach of user privacy."

A company source told the BBC the claims cannot possibly be true because public posts and private messages are stored and handled completely separately. Therefore, there's no way such data could be "cross-posted." (Source:

One theory is that the words appearing on user timelines are not private messages at all, but rather archived public posts that are now being seen out of context.

There's also a suggestion that the posts date from a time when many people were new to Facebook and would effectively have personal conversations by writing on one another's wall, not realizing this could irritate other Facebook friends.

Why these posts are suddenly appearing now remains something of a mystery. It may be due to a bug in Facebook's system by which users can choose to see the posts the site rates as most interesting rather than seeing every post in chronological order.

If that is the case, it might explain why only some users are experiencing the problem. That would be consistent with Facebook's policy of trying out tweaks to its system on a limited segment of its user base, and then extending the changes to all users only if they work without a problem.

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