Updated. Some Facebook users were alarmed this morning when it appeared that private messages written in 2009 and earlier were showing up on viewable Timelines as messages “Posted by friends.”
The earliest version of this post included accounts of users who claimed to have had their private messages turned into Timeline posts. TechCrunch has investigated more, and we have found no evidence that the allegedly exposed posts were actually private messages. Our Facebook specialist Josh Constine found that email receipts show allegedly exposed messages were in fact Wall posts, and the posts do not appear in users’ Facebook Messages inbox.
Facebook also says in no uncertain terms that there is absolutely no privacy bug. What people are seeing are old Wall postings, not private messages. A spokesperson told Constine:
“Every report we’ve seen, we’ve gone back and checked. We haven’t seen one report that’s been confirmed [of a private message being exposed]. A lot of the confusion is because before 2009 there were no likes and no comments on wall posts. People went back and forth with wall posts instead of having a conversation [in the comments of single wall post.]”
Facebook also told Constine there are technical barriers that prevent private messages from appearing as wall posts. “The two systems are totally separate.”
Previously Facebook issued the statement:
“A small number of users raised concerns after what they mistakenly believed to be private messages appeared on their Timeline. Our engineers investigated these reports and found that the messages were older wall posts that had always been visible on the users’ profile pages. Facebook is satisfied that there has been no breach of user privacy.”
The reason that this became an issue today may be because of Timeline’s global rollout. The first cases of people being worried about the potential exposure of old messages came from France — a Facebook spokesperson says this is the most recent place that Timeline was pushed to all users.
Constine notes that it can be hard to remember the way Facebook worked or the way we used it back in the day. Without comments, people would have conversations by exchanging wall posts, and any one taken out of context might seem like a private messages. We also might not have been as careful with what we posted to walls back then before everyone’s co-workers, boss, and grandma had a Facebook account — I know that I was personally surprised to see the messages I posted on others’ walls when looking back today. Facebook felt like a different, cozier place four years ago.
But worry not, and make sure your friends know the truth. No private Facebook messages have leaked.