The lastest Facebook privacy scare hoax

by on Sep.30, 2012, under Blog

Info about the “ALL MY PERSONAL EMAILS ARE ON MY TIMELINE” posts that are currently doing the rounds on Facebook…

Seems it’s just another hoax/panic. (This time.)

UPDATE: It now seems that while many people aren’t affected by this issue, enough evidence is coming through now to say that it’s a real issue. See this site for details, and for how to fix if your Facebook timeline is one of the ones affected.

I’ll leave the remainder of my post below intact for the info on how to more generally secure your social media accounts.

I had a look back through my timeline and at first thought “oh crap, this one’s real!” But once I started looking through the wall posts and comparing to my private messages, I saw that nothing from my private messages was actually on my timeline.

Of course, as the saying goes “the plural of anecdote isn’t ‘data'” – so it of course follows that the singular of anecdote is even less so. 🙂 The article linked above has some more info about people who continue to insist that they’ve seen valid instances of private emails/messages showing up on their timeline. Facebook have countered that the wall post and private messaging systems actually run on completely different platforms, so crosstalk between them would require some pretty spectacular code gymnastics to occur.

While reading back through these timeline/wall posts I was surprised at some of the stuff that people have pinged me with on my wall – some of if felt like private messages/conversation but was actually public (well, as public as my privacy settings allow, which in my case is pretty not-public).

Regardless, hoaxes like this one still serve as timely reminders about  managing privacy on social media sites. The general rules of thumb are:

  • Lock down your profile as tightly as the service allows. Once you’ve locked it down completely, make conscious choices about what settings to change to allow (slightly) greater access. For Facebook, I set my posts and photos to be visible to friends only, and require that any activity in which I’m tagged (photos, wall posts, etc.) is sent to me for review before it’s posted on my timeline or allows those tags to show up on the poster’s feed.


  • If someone pings you in a public way (e.g. a wall post on Facebook), move the conversation to a private communication channel rather than play out the conversation in ‘public’ unless it’s a trivial topic that you’re happy for your friends (and depending on your privacy settings, their friends, or the whole world) to read along.


  • And finally, remember that NO SYSTEM IS SECURE! Any social media system can be hacked, exposing your ‘private’ data to the hackers and then potentially the world. Any system can have bugs which cause messages that are meant to be private to be exposed more publicly. ALWAYS ASSUME that anything you post on a public service could one day come out in public, and post accordingly. Social media sites are NOT the place to share sensitive information, even if you’ve locked down your account as tightly as the service permits.

Stay safe out there.

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