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Rumor sparks new Facebook privacy concerns

Facebook Vice President of Product Chris Cox delivers a keynote address at Facebook's "fMC" global event for marketers in New York City February 29, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar (MIKE SEGAR/REUTERS)

Rumors are circulating that Facebook has made public millions of users’ private messages on its Timeline feature.

After an initial report in the French newspaper Metro, the rumor was quickly picked up by some technology blogs and tech press, and it’s flying around social media. The problem is, it doesn’t seem to be true.

Facebook says that the Timeline messages that sparked the rumors are actually old wall posts, and if they contain private information, it has been publicly available the whole time.

“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 said, according to TechCrunch.

Facebook’s denial has not been enough for some users, who remain adamant their private messages have been posted.

I went back and looked at my Facebook wall from 2008, and although there are a string of posts which look like private messages — you can see a selection here — none actually are. (I have cross-checked 100 of my own suspect wall posts.)

In 2007, 2008 and 2009, the years in question, Facebook was far newer, and its users less privacy-savvy. Facebook’s timeline makes it much easier to browse old posts, allowing users to see those containing information they might not dream of posting now.

The result? They conclude the posts must be private messages gone rogue. If you’re concerned about old posts, you can find information on how to restrict access to them here.

Further corroboration for Facebook’s version of events — if it were needed — is available: We’ve seen this scare before. In December 2011, a Finnish publication posted the same warnings on the same feature, which were picked up by the tech press. That rumor was debunked.

Even if there’s nothing to this rumor, it seems as if it’s one we might hear about a few times more before it dies out.

(Washington Post Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Donald E. Graham is a member of Facebook’s board of directors.)

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