Facebook Bug Exposed Users’ Chats, Requests for Friends

Wed, May 5, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    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.

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