Facebook denies leak of users' private messages

A Facebook spokesperson is denying reports that private messages sent by users on the social networking site have become public.

Complaints may be related to Facebook moving to Timeline layout worldwide

Some Facebook users say that old private messages are now appearing on their timelines. (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

A Facebook spokesperson is denying reports that private messages sent by users on the social networking site have become public.

The purported glitch began generating attention Monday after French newspaper Metro reported that private messages dating from 2007 to 2009 had become accessible to friends and acquaintances on their profile pages. Other newspapers across the country began reporting similar incidences, citing reports from the site's users.

The issue may be related to Facebook moving to its Timeline layout worldwide. France was the most recent country in which users were made to switch over to Timeline, a spokesperson for the company told technology website TechCrunch.

Still, users in a number of other countries were also adamant that their accounts had been affected. Some users said messages written as recently as last year have appeared in their public Facebook feed.

The company issued a statement in response, saying: "A small number of users raised concerns after what they 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." wrote that there was no evidence the messages in question had been private, and posted an explanation from a company spokesperson.

"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.]"

Users upset

Despite the company's response, Facebook users insisted their now-public correspondence had been private.

Matt Galligan wrote on Twitter: "No evidence aside, I saw it with my own two eyes. I have nothing to gain by falsely reporting this."

Screengrab of Facebook message. (Twitter)

Kim Fox, a former social media producer at CBC News, wrote on Twitter that she found several private Facebook messages from 2008 to 2012 posted on her timeline. She said she also saw private messages written by her on friends' pages.

Another user who posted on CBC News' Facebook page: "There were hundreds of posts added to my timeline, some were public some were definitely private but I hid [them] from my timeline before I read them all."

Facebook is estimated to have more than 900 million users worldwide including about 18 million in Canada.

Jennifer Stoddart, Canada's privacy commissioner, has criticized Facebook in the past for not doing enough to let users control their personal information online. Her office is looking into the user complaints, a spokesperson said.

"If it's true it would indeed be troubling [but]... we don't yet know for sure what's happening," said Anne-Marie Hayden.

"We are currently looking into it although we haven't launched a formal investigation. We do plan to speak with Facebook's Canadian representatives to ask what's happening from their point of view and we're going to continue to monitor the situation very closely."

With files from The Canadian Press