Facebook denies reports of major privacy breach

Old private messages between Facebook users suddenly appear on viewable timelines, according to several reports

Facebook today denied news reports of a major privacy breach involving users who saw their private messages from 2009 and before suddenly appearing on their viewable timelines as messages posted by their friends.

Users reported seeing their private messages, along with viewable wall posts appearing under the "Friends" box in Facebook's Timeline view, according to the news reports. This reporter's Facebook account did not appear to have the problem.

TechCrunch, one of the news sites that carried the story, reported receiving several emails from readers complaining about seeing their older private messages suddenly viewable to others.

The author of the TechCrunch story reported seeing the problem on her own Facebook page and on some of her friends' timelines as well. The issue has surfaced in the U.S. and elsewhere, but it does not appear to affect all Facebook users, according to TechCrunch.

TheNextWeb.com reported receiving emails from readers in the U.S., France, Canada, Brazil, Israel, Netherlands and the U.K. complaining of the same problem. Several newspapers in France, including Le Monde and Metro France, also reported the issue.

A Facebook spokeswoman today downplayed the reports and insisted there was no privacy breach.

"A small number of users raised concerns after what they mistakenly believed to be private messages appeared on their Timeline," the spokeswoman said via email. "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."

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan, or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His email address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

See more by Jaikumar Vijayan on Computerworld.com.

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