On Sept. 24, French Facebook users caught word of a bug in the social media that displayed their private messages from 2007, 2008, or 2009 on their public wall. However, an investigation from the French government showed that the “bug” did not exist at all. Through several sources, I was able to trace the story all the way to the original article, and follow the news as it unfolded over the next few days.
According to TechCrunch the first reports of the bug came from the French publication Metro. They discovered that old private messages started to appear on users’ Timelines. TechCrunch also reported that the well-known newspaper Le Monde saw the story and informed readers about the bug, especially those who had the newspaper’s app on their phones.
It was at this point that the Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés (CNIL) began their investigation. Led by 17 government officials, CNIL ensure that “information technology remains at the service of citizens, and does not jeopardize human identity or breach human rights, privacy or individual or public liberties.”
After the group’s inspection of the site, The Connexion reported that CNIL’s analysis of the problem found that the private messages were actually public messages. However, the group still had some criticisms about the website.
“The private character of the content of these messages seems indisputable,” they said. “In other words, users had the impression they were sending private messages when they were, in fact, using the wall-to-wall message system.” The same publication also quoted CNIL stating that Facebook needs to have “greater transparency” in regards to the private information of its many users.
While the scare may have been the fault of some users, I can’t help but point my finger at Facebook as well as the cause of this incident. The social media site has cosmetically and internally evolved over the years. Examples would be the integration of apps or its new Timeline look, which does not sit well with some users who complain about the site’s constant template changes.
While Facebook does show users the new features of Timeline when they switch to the new look, I don’t think it does enough to help users navigate the site. The “Help” button is not even visible on a user’s home page, which makes it hard to find for those who are not familiar with the site. I think that it should be visible in a place where old and new users can clearly see it. In addition, there should also be a video component so that users can see exactly how to perform certain actions so not to send messages publicly when they were intended to be private.
What do you think? Should Facebook toughen its approach on helping new users? Or do you think that the fault lies with those who mistakenly wrote their private messages on the public wall?