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After Investigation, French Data Protection Agency CNIL Concludes No Facebook Message Bug

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On September 24, French newspapers alerted Facebook that there could be a bug that would display private messages written in 2009 and earlier on users’ timelines. It was then invalidated by Facebook. The French data protection agency CNIL investigated on its own and delivered the same conclusions as Facebook. There was in fact no bug.

It all started in France when the free ad-supported newspaper Metro reported that they could read private messages on timelines. Le Monde, a respectable newspaper, relayed the information and even sent a push notification to all the iOS users who installed the app.

Many French users started panicking. That is why, in true French style, the government stepped in. Fleur Pellerin, Minister of the Digital Economy, showed up in about every media outlet of the country to reassure users and say that the government was looking at the issue. It was an unnecessary communication effort — as a side note, instead of wasting her time, she should address more urgent issues to foster innovation in France.

Yet, a public authority, the CNIL, started an investigation. That intervention was much more legitimate, as the mission of the agency is to ensure that companies and organizations protect privacy and personal data. It took more than a week to reach a conclusion. Just like Facebook, the CNIL pointed out design changes as the main reason behind the mix-up.

“The way Facebook used to work before 2010 is not comparable to the way the social network works today. The user interface was different and ‘Wall-To-Wall’ messages were much less prominent. ‘Wall-To-Wall’ messages were therefore perceived as private by the users,” writes the CNIL in its conclusions.

The CNIL indicated as well that Facebook implemented some drastic privacy changes in the past that could have misled users. But with that investigation, the case now seems to be closed in France, the country in which the rumor started.