At first upon reading the account of a blogger who believed that old, private messages between her and her Facebook friends were showing up publicly on her timeline, there was that same icky, familiar feeling many Facebook users had last year: Were our most private exchanges suddenly being aired out in a crazy, awful security breach?
Well, no, it doesn’t seem that way, despite the queasy feelings over at the DailyDot. If you’ll recall, the worry about messages-turned-posts received a lot of attention from a lot of very reputable and thorough media outlets: TechCrunch, Gizmodo, CNN, the Los Angeles times all weighed in, and the list goes on.
Those outlets and Facebook came to the conclusion at the time that there was no possible way for what used to be a message to suddenly turn into a wall post, and that the way we shared things was just very different back in 2006.
At the time, Facebook said: “A small number of users raised concerns after what they mistakenly 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. Facebook is satisfied that there has been no breach of user privacy.”
I spoke with a Facebook rep at length today on the phone, who stressed the fact that back in 2012 when users first sounded the alarm, the company was very thorough in investigating if there was any possibly for messages to publish as wall posts.
What they found then and re-confirmed today is that that simply cannot happen: Messages are stored in one place and posts the other, and never the twain shall meet. It couldn’t happen unintentionally, the engineers verified, and there was no intentional act to make that happen either.
Still skeptical? I was, after looking at some posts from pals — why would a friend have ragged on our former employer in one? In another post, why would a high school acquaintance ask me to send him porn? And included his home mailing address? (That’s because I worked at Penthouse and sending free porn to your friends made me a very popular person). But when I went back and checked my inbox first thing, I didn’t see any of those messages repeated on my wall. (That’s something the DailyDot writer was unfortunately unable to do to ease her mind, as she’d erased older messages from her archive)
I’m no developer, but the way things were explained to me regarding Facebook’s efforts to research individual posts that concerned users, I have an understanding that if a wall post was born as a wall post, there’s data to back that up. If a message was sent as a message, it’s a message, and the information regarding that supports it.
This thread on Reddit even includes updates from people who were at first outraged, but then realized, after cross-referencing their email notifications from Facebook (you know, “Ryan Gosling posted on your wall”) that what they really, truly, in their heart of hearts thought was a private message, was and always had been a post.
Maybe now you would never post your mailing address on a friend’s wall, but back then people were using wall posts as a way to have conversations. The rep reminded me of the “see Wall-to-Wall” function that existed before replies were enabled on individual posts, where you used to be able to view your whole exchange — what you posted on a friend’s wall and what they posted on yours — as one thread.
That functionality is now gone, so what remains looks like individual messages plucked from a larger conversation. But that conversation took place on your wall and your friend’s wall, as awful and yucky as that feels now.
It appears there is no conclusive proof that Facebook could’ve published messages as posts — however, if you check your inbox and see a message there that is also duplicated on your Timeline, please feel free to let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So what can you do? If you go to your Privacy Settings (not the shortcut, the full menu under the upper right hand settings wheel) you can limit visibility for past posts. Or if there are some you still want everyone to see, you can change the settings on each one.
There’s no official statement from Facebook but if we do receive one, we’ll make sure to update this post.