Outrage over Facebook’s private message scandal should send us running for our privacy settings

facebook readingYesterday a new Facebook privacy scare hit the Web when users began complaining that old private messages from 2009 were being publicly posted to their Timelines. Facebook quickly came back, defending itself and saying that these were Wall Posts from 2009, things that people had put on friends’ Walls in ’09 intentionally.

Here’s a sample of what most of the resurrected moments looked like (via BetaBeat):

betabeat example one example two betabeat

There’s no definitive way to tell, but these seem to read like privately shared messages, although it’s worth mentioning that some users who’d seen this also went through their Messages inbox to see if they could find the reproduced notes and were not able to – meaning that these could have very well been publicly posted. Also, we all used to speak very differently — read, candidly — on Facebook. 

Facebook, for its part, says that they’ve checked the complaints and none of them have been private messages exposed. “A small number of users raised concerns after what they mistakenly believed to be private messages appeared on their Timeline,” a Facebook rep tells me. “Our engineers investigated these reports and found that the messages were older wall posts that had always been visible on the users’ profile pages.”

 “A lot of the confusion is because before 2008 there were no likes and no comments on wall posts. People went back and forth with wall posts instead of having a conversation [via comments].”

Remember those days? If you don’t, and you have Timeline, take a walk down memory lane and just look: Pre-2010, your Wall (as it was then known) is full of single statements that you assumedly responded to over on your friends’ respective profiles.

old facebook posts

There also weren’t as many privacy concerns, and to that end, privacy controls. It was a simpler time. The Timeline changed all that – and then some. I’ve said it before but it bears repeated: By putting the year toggle on the sidebar of your profile, it’s become incredibly, incredibly easy and quick to scan to all the dumb stuff you did when Facebook was college-kids only, before you parents and brands and employers and everyone was using the platform. Obviously, this only applies to a certain generation, but those of us in that bracket were raised online. Much of our young adult and adult lives are catalogued here, for better or worse, and the Timeline means everyone we give permissions to can go right ahead and see what we’ve done and said for themselves.

So if you haven’t already, you immediately should head over to your privacy settings and use the Limit Past Post feature. This takes everything you publicly posted or shared with friends of friends limited to your friends only. Of course this doesn’t take care of things people posted on your Wall – unfortunately that’s out of your hands, and can be just as damning.  

limit pasts posts feature

It’s clear that something went wrong here, though. Maybe those weren’t private messages that suddenly showed up on users’ Timelines, but it certainly doesn’t make sense to see content from three years ago suddenly front and center on your page. I reached out to Facebook for clarification but didn’t get an answer to this question.

Be it system glitch or user error, it’s a harsh reminder that the Internet is an elephant: It forgets nothing.