Facebook Bug Which Changed Privacy Setting to Public Affected 14 Million Users

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Facebook admitted that because of a bug in the platform, as high as, 14 million users posted publicly on their timelines despite their previous privacy settings. Under perilous times for the social media giant, this might be the second big blow it is facing since the start of this year. The social media giant stated that because of the bug users were suggested that they post publicly even if they had alternative privacy settings set to "friends only" or another private setting. It also added, that if users had missed out on noticing the new suggested change, then the post would have been publicly posted by default.


Erin Egan, Chief privacy officer at Facebook, said that the bug had not affected past posts which users had already posted. Instead, it just tweaked the default posting settings while users made a new post. Now, Facebook is already in damage control and is informing the users who have been affected by the bug. The social media giant is also urging people to review their posts.

This news comes right after Facebook’s partnership with Huawei came into public knowledge wherein the social media giant was sharing user data with the Chinese smartphone manufacturer. Also, this year Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified in front of the Senate for the Cambridge Analytica data scandal which led to a loss of information of 87 million Facebook users.

Elite educationists also did not shy away from making comments on this new revelation. Jonathan Mayer, a professor of computer science and public affairs at Princeton University said on Twitter that this latest privacy gaffe "looks like a viable Federal Trade Commission/state attorney general deception case." Specially after the tightened scrutiny on Facebook, the social media giant had promised that it would be dedicated to maintaining users’ privacy and security which meant that users have control over the content which they share on the platform. However, in the case of this bug, it wasn’t taken care of.

Facebook in 2011 had signed a consent decree with the FTC. This decree dictates that the company should seek "express consent" from users before sharing their information beyond what they established in their privacy settings. Mayer said that even though it might be a mistake on the company’s part, this incident could bring down FTC action.

According to Facebook’s official statement, the bug crept in when the company built a new way for people to share "featured items" on their timelines. These items, which include posts and photo album come with default public setting. However, while implementing this feature, Facebook said it accidentally made the suggested audience for all new posts public.

The company which boasts over 2.2 billion users worldwide admitted that the bug was active from May 18 until May 27. Although, they stated that they stopped the bug on May 22, reverting back the posts to their original privacy setting took quite some time.

It is noteworthy that Facebook provides an option to the user where if they specify a privacy setting, for instance, of “friends only” while posting anything on the platform, the same setting follows for the other posts in future until the user decides to change it. However, during the bug, all privacy settings were changed to “public” by default.

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Arpit spends his day closely following the telecom and tech industry. A music connoisseur and a night owl, he also takes a deep interest in the Indian technology start-up scene and spends rest of his time spilling poetry and stories on paper.

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