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Facebook bug exposed users' chats, requests for friends

Facebook said Wednesday that the private chat messages of users were exposed to other “friends” in their networks today because of a software bug.

A spokesperson said in a statement that for a limited time users' chat messages and their pending friend requests were made visible to other friends when a subscriber manipulated the “preview my profile” feature on Facebook’s privacy settings page. A friend on Facebook is a member of an individual’s micro-network within the Web site.

The lapse follows a recent outcry by lawmakers over the social networking giant’s privacy practices and a move by the Federal Trade Commission to come up with a framework to safeguard online privacy within social networking applications.

The company didn’t immediately respond to questions about how long that private data was made available more broadly than intended.

“When we received reports of the problem, our engineers promptly diagnosed it and temporarily disabled the chat function. Chat is now back up and running. We worked quickly to resolve this matter, ensuring that once the bug was reported to us, a solution was quickly found and implemented,” the spokesman said.

“The problem is that Silicon Valley companies rush to get technology out and they just do things and ask for forgiveness later,” said John Simpson, who works on privacy issues for Consumer Watchdog. “But too much is at stake.”

Google has also drawn criticism over privacy for targeted advertising and a lapse with its social networking application, Google Buzz. The company layered its Google Buzz social networking application on top of its Gmail users’ accounts. When it was announced, many users said they found their Gmail contact list exposed to the public or at least to others in their networks.

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) is in the process of introducing a bill that would enable the Federal Trade Commission to create its own rules on privacy (the FTC is in the process of crafting a privacy framework for social networks on the Web) and give it the ability to impose civil penalties on companies that breach those rules.

By Cecilia Kang  |  May 5, 2010; 3:37 PM ET
Categories:  FTC , Facebook , Google  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Lawmakers call on FCC to assert authority over broadband networks
Next: Genachowski to reclassify portions of broadband to assert FCC authority over Internet access


It took them long enough to fix this crap. The only thing that's been swift about any of this is their misleading PR.

Posted by: Nymous | May 5, 2010 11:24 PM | Report abuse

A computer, or network, does what the software tells it to do. If it isn't told to do something it doesn't do it. There's not a complex software application in the universe that doesn't have bugs, and changes to fix one bug often bring about another bug. Facebook's interlacing of outside applications only makes the problem worse. No one should expect things will be perfect.

This is also why missile defense is a joke. The only way it will be tested in the real world is a terrorist attack, when it will be too late if there are bugs that prevent a successful interception, which there most likely will be. They can't even shoot done a missile they have fired themselves most of the time.

If you don't even know you have privacy settings, or don't use them, in Facebook, you are just setting yourself up for problems.

Posted by: tojo45 | May 6, 2010 8:25 AM | Report abuse

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Posted by: itkonlyyou45 | May 6, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Any social network that doesn't have privacy as one of it's core concepts will repeatedly make these sort of mistakes. I read an interesting article on an MIT site which stated that just having a "recommend" feature active on a site represents a permanent security flaw. Makes me a little nervous about that Facebook 'like' button lurking at the bottom of this page...

Giles, Senior Content Editor, TrustWorks

Posted by: gileslewey | May 6, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse

Re: itkonlyyou45
That is SO helpful. Thanks for contributing to the discussion.

Posted by: wp05062010 | May 6, 2010 2:55 PM | Report abuse

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