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One of Facebook’s biggest problems is that they have on several occasions managed to change privacy settings so drastically that the general public has lost faith in them. To make things doubly difficult for Facebook, they have helped foster the idea that word-of-mouth recommendations from your Facebook friends are more valuable than the information you get from elsewhere.

So, for most people, it’s easier to believe an upset Facebook post from a friend or acquaintance than it is to believe that Facebook are doing the right thing. I think you shot yourself in the foot there, Facebook.

The latest scare doing the rounds is that Facebook has made public all of your private messages from the early days of Facebook. Many people are updating their statuses with horrified concern and advice on how to fix the problem. Meanwhile, the official reports in the media have been swinging both ways on whether it’s Facebook’s fault or user error. It’s no surprise people are confused about the whole thing.

The Problem: Private Messages Seem To Be Made Public

Many users are reporting that “private messages on Facebook have been made public“. More specifically, these seem to be messages sent and received between 2007 and 2010. The reports first surfaced in the French media and were very quickly picked up by the media in the rest of the world. Every time a reporter wanted to verify the facts, there were always at least a few people they knew who were shocked to find certain messages appearing publicly on their walls. Thus, the story spread like wildfire, both virally and in the media.

Facebook’s Initial Response: No Private Messages Were Made Public

Facebook have stated from the start that no private messages were made public. They claim that the people who were surprised at what they saw in their timelines were actually looking at back-and-forth wall posts which were made at a time when that was the normal way to communicate on Facebook and most people weren’t worried about their privacy settings.


“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.” – Facebook.

The folks at Gizmodo actually put it really well:

“It turns out that no messages were leaked—people just can’t remember what the hell they were saying years ago. We talk differently on Facebook now. This is really fascinating! Wall posts from 2008—which were always public—looked like something you might say privately today. We were more intimate, more formal, more message-y.”

Facebook’s Additional Response: We’ve Changed How Old Content Is Displayed

This fear of private Facebook messages going public led to a huge amount of negative media and status updates, despite Facebook’s denial. So, in order to try to make things right, Facebook say they have now made a few changes to how old wall posts are displayed on the timeline.

“We’ve made several improvements to the way older content is displayed on timeline to make the audience and other information clearer” – Facebook.

What You Can Do To Ensure Your Posts Are Private

Regardless of whether Facebook was in the wrong or not, your old wall post conversations might well be more public than you previously thought – and the new Timeline layout makes it really easy for people to find them. You might want to see what’s lurking in your old posts and sort them out.

Limit who can read your wall posts by clicking the down arrow in the top-right of Facebook, then choosing “Privacy Settings” and “Edit settings” from next to the “Timeline and Tagging” section. In the section marked “Who can see what others post in your timeline?” you can quickly change it to “friends” or a custom setting such as “Close Friends” or “Just me“.

While you’re there, you could also limit who can see your timeline to just “Friends” to be on the safe side.

Delete or limit who can see your old wall posts individually by either browsing your Timeline by year or looking through your activity log. To do this, head to your profile and either click on the years or click on “Activity Log“. For either method, you can delete or change the privacy by clicking in the right-hand corner of the post. They’re slightly different, but either method will allow you to see what’s there and make changes.

More Reading

If you’re now ready to read more about your Facebook privacy, check out these posts:

Have you noticed any of your old messages/wall posts are more public than you thought?

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  1. Jim Spencer
    December 19, 2012 at 8:13 am

    I think the most prudent thing to do is be ever vigilant, and always weigh the cost for making any part of your life public, as in Facebook or any other social media!

  2. Anonymous
    October 23, 2012 at 10:03 pm

    Already made my settings :) THanks

  3. Debbie Strain
    October 22, 2012 at 6:50 pm

    Thanks, I know this is old news however I like a reminder to re-check my settings. I used to log on to Facebook everyday however it is getting old and I only tend to check it once every week or so. I only keep the account so I can keep better track of my son's postings.

  4. Main Uddin
    October 22, 2012 at 1:22 am

    It was mistake of user own self but that problem is so old one .

  5. jody
    October 21, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    There is a couple things you all have to remember. One is that you are on the web, what you say or post on any site is public knowledge. Each one of us have enough info on our profiles on any site, that you can be found or in fact there is enough info to get credit cards in your name. Plus look at the fact that face book always reverts back to the phase "when you signed up you had to agree to our terms to join." so by us accepting their conditions they are legally allowed to tell anyone everything about you or if they wanted to they could sell your info. I will tell you that your emails are being sold by facebook and alot of other sites. Your personal email inbox and spam folder tell you that. A site that is free to sign up and use is typically not totally free. They have to pay their hosting cost and domain name somehow.

  6. Anthony Rocco
    October 20, 2012 at 9:33 am

    Great, so now the feds can see even more stuff on us

  7. Anonymous
    October 18, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    Yeah, it's good to double check.

  8. Rob
    October 17, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    There was a poll run by a radio station here that has a current affairs segment, and they had over 300 responses of people that did, yes did, have private messages revealed on facebook. These were cases where you would never want anyone other than the direct recipient to read them. They were both visible in people's inboxes and on their wall.

  9. Edward Bellair
    October 17, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    Thats funny stuff. What are people actually expecting?

  10. Mike
    October 17, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    Article misses one big point, the assumption that Timeline is chosen by the user. I never signed up for Timeline nor approved its use. It seems Timeline has automatically been added to my site, though I never wanted it to collect data on me. The only place to alter Timeline security is to go into Timeline to authorize changes, thereby implying you use Timeline. Facebook is driving me crazy with their manipulation of user content and arbitrary altering of security settings without advance notice and seeking user permission. The message to be taken from this is that privacy is dead in the internet era.

    I won't even post a picture on Facebook because of the data collection and tagging being done. I like the concept of communication and interaction with friends, but dislike the snooping and usurpation of information posted on Facebook by Facebook, when you have limited it to Friends only and never "friended" Facebook....

  11. yoganand goud
    October 17, 2012 at 5:09 pm

    nice infooo

  12. Jim Spencer
    October 17, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    After reading this, I am wondering why I even have a Facebook account! We can protect ourselves from the normal web surfing, but this is different! We are subject to whatever Facebook has in place to protect our presence on its website and they don't seem to be doing such a great job! Thank you guys for another great insightful article!

  13. Vicky Gregory Moss
    October 17, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    Good info. I am pretty burned out on Facebook anyway. The only thing I am using it for right now is an online garage sale in my city (trying to get rid of some stuff).

  14. M.C.J.Bakker
    October 17, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    Social media and especially FB are part of a very dangerous development in
    modern society. Does anyone read 1984 and Brave New World these days?
    There one can see where all this is leading!

  15. M.C.J.Bakker
    October 17, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    Social media and especially FB are part of a very dangerous development in
    modern society. Does anyone read 1984 and Brave New World these days?
    There one can see where all this is leading!

  16. M.C.J.Bakker
    October 17, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    Social media and especially FB are part of an extremely dangerous phenomenon
    Does anybody read 1984 and Brave New We World these days.There one can see where all this is leading.

  17. Ritwick Saikia
    October 17, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    Always better to be warned. By design or by fault this is a big risk of exposing one's private lives online.

  18. Shmuel Mendelsohn
    October 17, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    Granted, it is old news. But nevertheless it is still true, which is a shame!

  19. Harshit Jain
    October 17, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    I think I should start taking complete precaution on what I share on facebook as it is not very secure. Does anybody recommend using Microsoft's, the facebook like site?

    • Eric
      October 18, 2012 at 5:02 pm

      Google Plus is very nice, with better controls and features, but for me the huge downside is that few of my friends use it. So I'm stuck using FB knowing that there is a better option available. Frustrating.

  20. Roger Stoddard
    October 17, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    I think that it was a very valid article, with many new people signing up for Facebook everyday, many will want to know how to protect their privacy. But in my opinion Facebook and Privacy are probably polar opposites.

  21. Chew Jian Yue
    October 17, 2012 at 10:00 am

    Is it true? I won't want to use Facebook's chat, if this source is verified.

  22. Timo
    October 17, 2012 at 6:32 am

    I always find it amazing how many people actually believe that "using facebook" has anything private about it. :/

    And the constant watchful eye one has to have on the changing settings is stressful.

  23. Anonymous
    October 17, 2012 at 5:25 am

    Then don't talk Crap about your boss or girl friend or cousin on FB.

    life is much simpler if you just do it via e-mail or chat.

  24. Mustafa A.
    October 17, 2012 at 2:04 am

    Not all old posts were public if you had your privacy settings setup correctly. I remember one's profile used to be visible by anyone in the same network, but even then there were ways to limit who could see one's profile. Most people never bothered with it though because Facebook was actually very good on privacy several years back. I guess it just finally caught up to them now.

  25. John Buxbaum
    October 17, 2012 at 12:43 am

    my settings were already good - but thanks - its always good to dbl check when it comes to Facebook privacy..... they are as trustworthy as any politician..

  26. Edwin Williams
    October 17, 2012 at 12:28 am

    Thanks for the information!

    • Praveen pandey
      October 19, 2012 at 1:32 pm

      ya its old one but it may be helpful to others

  27. NL495
    October 16, 2012 at 11:03 pm

    This is old news and not valid. Why are you posting this a month late?

    • Brian Mok
      October 17, 2012 at 1:31 am

      That's what I was thinking.

    • Grant Constable
      October 17, 2012 at 7:08 am

      FYI - it's still valuable info that some may have missed at the time.

      • NL495
        October 17, 2012 at 7:18 am

        True enough... :)

        • Jérémie Fortin
          October 20, 2012 at 3:34 am

          yup :D

    • Angela Alcorn
      November 9, 2012 at 10:54 am

      Because there are still people who believe it and who are passing on the misinformation to more friends. It's amazing how many people don't verify things for themselves.