Facebook flaw changed millions of users’ posts from private to public

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Facebook is again at the center of a privacy controversy after revealing today that it had been inadvertently sharing private posts publicly for some 14 million users. As a result, from May 18 to May 27, as many as 14 million users who intended posts to be available only to select individuals were, in fact, accessible to anyone on the Internet.

Erin Egan, Facebook's chief privacy officer, said in a statement that the company recently "found a bug that automatically suggested posting publicly when some people were creating their Facebook posts". "We'd like to apologize for this mistake".

Facebook's 2011 consent decree with the FTC calls for the company to get "express consent" from users before sharing their information beyond what they established in their privacy settings. In the meantime, Facebook has set any public posts from that period to users' previous default settings, meaning that even users who meant to make posts public will need to reset them to be globally accessible. "We expect that this kind of on-platform notification is something which people might see more of over the coming months as we try and do more (and better) to detect and fix issues before they affect people's experience". These prompts will include a link to what may have been shared during the period before the bug was fixed by Facebook.

According to Facebook, only four days worth of posts were accidentally shared - between May 18 and May 22, and the company has automatically changed them back to private.

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The company told TechCrunch the glitch happened while testing a new "featured items" option on profiles that allows users to highlight photos and other content.

The firm added that the notification is part of Facebook's broader and recent efforts to be more transparent about its product and how its handling privacy issues.

Facebook said it estimates 14 million people did so - and so has started notifying users.

Users can also manually change the privacy of the posts - anywhere from "public" to "only me" - when publishing to Facebook.

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